Winemaker named to GMO panel
Though he sticks to strict organic and biodynamic standards in farming his own vineyard, Newberg winemaker Sam Tannahill said he’s taking a “wait-and-see” mode” on introduction of genetically modified organisms into the food supply, after being appointed to a state task force on the issue.
Tannahill was recently tapped by Gov. John Kitzhaber to serve on a panel charged with devising a statewide GMO strategy to guide the Governor’s Office, Legislature and state Department of Agriculture.
The group is being asked to develop a map indicating where genetically modified crops may and may not be grown and where buffers and exclusion zones are needed to avoid commingling. It is being asked to develop a set of findings by the end of June.
The task force has met once so far, mostly just to get organized, Tannahill said.
The issue is a contentious one, he acknowledged, but he said he’s no stranger to hot disp utes.
“I’ve been on a couple of task forces before, most recently on land use in the Oregon wine industry,” he said. “We absolutely came to some common ground and recommendations, and if we can do that on land use in Oregon, we should be able to do it with GMOs.”
Tannahill thinks his ability to “bring a balanced viewpoint” is behind his selection.
He said the task force’s most important mission may simply be to dispel misinformation rather than truly break new ground. “I think there’s so much disinformation out there, on both sides, that I think really one of our biggest duties as a task force will be to shine a light on what’s actually real in the debate,” he said.
Asked about his own views, Tannahill said, “I think there are some amazing benefits, and also some serious pitfalls, to using GMOs in agriculture. We need to be very careful about how they are used, and we need to absolutely do more research and understand the research that’s already been done. There are environmental concerns on both sides; there are also social and economic concerns.”
So far, the issue hasn’t become the lightning rod in the wine industry that it has in some others, such as the organic vegetable seed industry. Largely, Tannahill said, that’s because so far, no GMO winegrapes have been developed.
Eventually, he said, “We’re going to have to deal with it in the industry.”
Tannahill hopes the task force will be able to find some common ground between opposing sides, or, failing that, at least educate the state Legislature on the issues.
“I’m very happy that we’re doing this,” he said. “Obviously, with the imeptus of different states around the country to develop their own rules and policy, it’s certainly time that Oregon looks at this. I would hope that the federal government would weigh in, but that might not be possible. In the absence of that, states are going to need to make their own decisions.”
Tannahill and his wife, Cheryl Francis, operate A to Z Wineworks and Rex Hill Vineyards in Newberg with partners Bill and Deb Hatcher.