Economists have differed on how big a factor biofuels are in food costs.
Former President Bill Clinton warned that increasing biofuel production could hurt the world's poor and fuel political instability around the globe.
"We have to become energy independent. We don't want to do it at the expense of food riots," Clinton said Thursday at a USDA conference attended by agribusiness executives, farmers, economists and others.
Clinton's caution contrasts with the Obama administration's bullish tone on ethanol.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking at the same conference, said there was "no reason to take the foot off the gas" when it comes to biofuels, because U.S. farmers "can do it all."
Clinton stopped short of calling for a slowdown in U.S. ethanol production but said the industry's growth needed to be reviewed regularly.
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