Hyatt event attracts GMO protesters

Public access in and around some areas of the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa are being restricted for several days this week as a series of private events are occurring at the hotel, according to a hotel spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman from San Francisco said Thursday that hotel officials did not want to discuss who the clients are, but those who work in or were in the area this week said that banners and bags seen around the hotel property are displaying the Winfield company name.

According to the Winfield website, Winfield Solutions is a Land O’Lakes company that offers top-performing seed and crop protection products.

Anti-genetically modified organism protesters have been around the Hyatt this week.

Winfield spokeswoman Rebecca Lentz said by phone late Thursday afternoon that “Winfield is celebrating a successful 2013 with our customers and looking forward to 2014.”

Protesters said that the event was an incentive trip for farmers.

The Hyatt spokeswoman said that people who are not Hyatt guests are being kept off the hotel’s property, including its stores and restaurants, to eliminate difficulty with controlling food and beverages being supplied for the special event at the “wide-open” property.

She said the closures will last until Saturday morning. The hotel spokeswoman added that the guests for the private event began arriving Monday.

During peak times of the private events, the spokeswoman said a walkway along the beach side of the hotel is also being closed and that people are being diverted around the closure.

While protesters may have been displaying signs with anti-Monsanto company language, Carol Reimann, a community and government affairs manager with Monsanto Hawaii, said that the company is not participating in the event.

Protesters at the beach said it wasn’t all negative, although they cited at least one incident in which a person attending the event yelled at a protester and pushed him.

Some anti-GMO protesters were able to talk to some of the event participants, who they described as Midwest farmers, and were able to have constructive conversations with them and share both sides of the issue. At least one protester marveled that Midwest farmers and local activists had come together to talk story on the beach.

Another protester, Leslie Rule, who joined the group of sign wavers Wednesday, said in an email: “When I first heard this conference was an incentive vacation for GMO farmers, paid for by this GMO company, I was sickened. Then, I realized, what a blessing to have them here! This is a great opportunity for our local community to raise more awareness of the anti-GMO and GMO-labeling movements we are working so hard on throughout Hawaii!

“Quite a few of the protesters were able to have peaceful conversations directly with these farmers to discuss other farming alternatives. Many of the farmers aren’t informed about the potential health dangers and environmental dangers that come with altered-gene crops and from the heavy pesticide use that GMO seeds allow. It’s been a great chance to share information, and get the public involved,” Rule said.

Courtney Bruch with GMO Free Maui, who was also at the beach fronting the Hyatt on Wednesday, said in an email: “Healthy food activists opposing genetically modified technology farming came out strong to express a variety of discontent.”

She echoed that there was “valuable and lively interface” with GMO growers and Maui citizens present among the painted surfboards and beach umbrellas with anti-GMO messages.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at