Policy Journal: Clinton Predicts More Biofuels Will Bring Food Riots

March 11, 2011 11:20 PM

Clinton Predicts More Biofuels Will Bring Food Riots

iaethanol2Addressing hunger and poverty have been key issues for former President Bill Clinton since he left the White House. That focus prompted him to use an appearance at USDA’s Outlook Forum to issue a warning about biofuels.

Clinton said using more crops to produce biofuels could provoke unrest around the globe. "If we
produce more biofuels, that means less food and that will bring food riots," Clinton said, even while stressing that the U.S. needs to become more energy independent.

"The best thing to do is to say we have to be more energy independent but we don’t want to do it at the expense of food riots," Clinton stated. "We have to make intelligent decisions."

With his warning about growing crops for biofuels, Clinton assured those in agriculture that there’s plenty of work for the American farmer. A key question needs to be asked, he added: "Is there a way to produce food in the traditional way and still get a good price for it?

"We know that the way we produce and consume energy has to change, yet for farmers there are no simple answers," he said.

The Renewable Fuels Association was quick to issue a statement following Clinton’s remarks, saying "grain demand from American ethanol production represents just 3% of the world’s grain supply." The association also pointed out that ethanol production returns one-third of every bushel to the feed markets, resulting in the production of more than 32 million metric tons of feed in 2010 alone.

Principles Should Guide New Farm Bill

The 2012 farm bill has to be viewed as a jobs bill, Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said at USDA’s annual Outlook Forum.

"We should start with principles that will guide us as we evaluate what works and what doesn’t in today’s economy to address the unique challenges facing our farmers today and into the future. Agriculture is much more efficient today than it was 80 years ago, but it’s also more expensive, and therefore more risky," she noted.

What are those principles? Creating the most effective safety net and tools to manage risk are at the top of the list. "We have farmers sinking almost $300 per acre into the ground in the hopes that it will produce a valuable crop," Stabenow noted. "We need an effective safety net so that we aren’t watching family businesses go under because of a few days of bad weather or other factors outside of their control."

Trade and developing new markets for U.S. commodities; smarter and simpler farm programs; research; conserving land and water; safe food; effective nutrition programs; and energy independence are also important principles that need to be addressed in the next bill, Stabenow added.

Let’s not forget about regulations, Stabenow said. "We need to sit down with USDA and EPA and address the concerns our farmers and ranchers have with pending environmental regulations," Stabenow stated. To get to the heart of the matter, Senate Ag Committee ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is setting up a working group with USDA and EPA. "We might need to remind them that country roads are sometimes a little dusty, and there’s not much we can do to change that," Stabenow observed.

Policy Briefs

Food price forecast increased

USDA economists now expect food-at-home (grocery store) and food-away-from-home (restaurant) prices to increase 3% to 4% in 2011 compared with 2010. This is the first increase in their forecast since July 2010. By contrast, food prices rose only 0.8% in 2010 compared with 2009. The current forecast for 2011 is still behind the 5.5% increase in 2008.

Records on the trade front

USDA expects U.S. ag exports to hit a record $135.5 billion in fiscal year 2011, up $9 billion from their November forecast and $26.8 billion more than fiscal year 2010. However, USDA also expects imports will increase to a record $88 billion. That would still leave U.S. agriculture with a record trade surplus of $47.5 billion, well above the prior record set in fiscal year 2008.


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