Former President Bill Clinton struck a raw nerve with ethanol supporters with his comments at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual Outlook Forum today.
“We have to become energy independent but we don’t want to do it at the expense of food riots,” Clinton said, calling for a periodic reassessment of the industry “with 3-5 year time horizons based on the best evidence we have to maximize the availability of good food at affordable prices.”
That did not sit well with the ethanol industry or corn growers. “The driver behind rising food prices has been and remains oil,” said Matt Hartwig with the Renewable Fuels Association. “President Clinton is right that ethanol is a key to American energy security and we would welcome his support in advocating for the continued advancement and evolution of this industry to include a wide variety of feedstocks and technologies.”
Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis called Clinton’s concerns “well-intentioned” but noted, “There are over a billion acres of previously-tilled farmland in poor nations that can be brought back into production as ethanol makes farming this land cost-effective. Ethanol does not create food shortages, but instead gives these nations a way to get their own sovereign farming economies back on their feet so they can feed themselves.”
National Corn Growers Association President Bart Schott noted in reaction to Clinton’s comments, “New reports show that the rising cost of oil, not ethanol production, is a major cause of increased food prices. With the continuing unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa, it is imperative that we continue to support a home-grown fuel industry that helps keep our country safe and creates jobs. The American farmer is very aware of the world’s rising demand for corn, and we will continue to meet those needs.”