It turns out that the motley crew of organic farmers, anarchists, celebrity chefs and wild-eyed Luddites holding “teach-ins,” getting themselves arrested, and running around naked in Sacramento this week don’t like corporations. Who would have guessed?

Feed the needy, not the greedy,” read one placard hoisted near where agricultural ministers from hundreds of countries are meeting to consider the benefits of genetically enhanced crops. “Beat Back the Corporate Attack,” demonstrators chanted. “Entire populations are being put at risk simply for corporate economic benefit,” one protestor told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lost in the haze of anti-corporate hysteria is what the Sacramento conferees are actually doing. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told the assembled delegates that
“this conference is for those most in need.” Hunger “has to become a global agenda,” she continued. “One in seven people in the world face chronic hunger, and a child dies every five seconds from (starvation or malnutrition). Progress to end hunger is seriously lagging, and new approaches are needed.”

Ask the organizers of the Sacramento protests what “new approaches” they might bring to the table to help eliminate hunger — most will give you yet another practiced tirade against corporations. That’s entertaining, but not particularly helpful when addressing the immediate needs of impoverished nations.

Some of the technophobes dancing through Sacramento’s streets are so blindly opposed to genetic engineering that they’ll say anything to prevent progress. Some will even deny that there is hunger in the Third World. Others will trot out the recycled argument that the problem isn’t production technology.

“It’s distribution,” one anti-pesticide activist told reporters. “Western Uganda is very fertile and very wet, and produces a tremendous surplus of crops. But our roads are horrible — we have no infrastructure, so we can’t move the food around. That’s why a stalk of bananas that costs 300 Uganda shillings in the western part of the country costs 3,500 shillings by the time it gets to Kampala (in the country’s eastern section).”

OK, fine. But wouldn’t it be nice if the people in Kampala could grow their own bananas? Improved production — the promise of genetically enhanced crops — is clearly part of the answer. Unfortunately, hatred of corporations trumps this rather obvious point for the press-hungry Sacramento demonstrators.