ETHANOL:

Bill Clinton warns against using too much corn for fuels

Former President Clinton warned farmers and Agriculture Department employees today at the department's Agricultural Outlook Forum that using too much corn for ethanol could lead to higher food prices and conflict in poorer countries.

Clinton told attendees of the forum in Arlington, Va., that ethanol production is important for energy progress in the United States, but the danger it poses to developing countries must be considered.

"We know that the way we produce and consume energy has to change, yet for farmers there are no simple answers," he said. "There is a way for us to do this and to do it right."

The ethanol industry has long held that its production does not significantly drive up food prices (see related story).

"The driver behind rising food prices has been and remains oil," said Matt Hartwig of the ethanol industry group Renewable Fuels Association. "Rising oil prices, even before the unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa, have made everything we buy from food to clothes to oil more expensive."

After supporting ethanol production for years through tax credits, Congress now hesitates as it watches global food prices fluctuate.

Clinton called for more rigorous debates on biofuels, saying they have been discussed in a "knee-jerk, one-off, fact-free way" (Mary Clare Jalonick, Washington Post, Feb. 24). -- PK