Organic Handler, What Does That Mean?

I have opportunities to talk to lots of groups about organic agriculture and organic food. In the presentations I talk about organic handler certification and to be honest most folks have never even thought about what an “organic handler” is or does.

The vast majority of organic commodities pass through the hands of at least one middleman, also called a handler, on the way from the farmer to the consumer. Certified organic handlers are certified to handle organic products in accordance with National Organic Standards. Organic handlers perform numerous functions, including packing and shipping, manufacturing and processing, and brokering, wholesaling, or distributing. I basically say that once a farmer sells an organic product (meat, dairy, grain, vegetables, etc.) to anyone except a consumer the buyer must be a certified handler. I like to say that organic is from the farm to the grocery shopper and that is pretty much true. Once an organic product is packaged then anyone can sell that package with an organic label but until that time it must be “handled” by certified handlers.

So, what does this mean in Texas? Currently we have 428 certifications issued to handler operations. Of this total there are about 249 different companies that operate as handlers. What I mean is that a company like HEB may have 20 stores with an organic handler certificate because they cut up organic produce and sell it in packages. Or Natural Grocers has 11 stores certified, all with different addresses but the same corporate company.

Of these 428 certifications in the hands of 249 companies, I have tried to put them into categories to better understand what is going on with Texas organics. If you look at the picture below you get a fairly good idea of the breakdown. Within these categories you have growers that also have a handler certificate. For instance several organic rice growers also package their own rice and sell as organic rice to consumers. One citrus grower, South Tex Organics, the Holbrook family, also sells organic juices through their Earth Born branded products.

Why is this important? Good question and one I think is easily answered with the fact that we have over 360 organic Texas growers and I hope that these 428 Texas organic handlers are buying Texas organic products to package and sell in Texas. The more we see Texas organic growers selling to Texas organic handlers who package and then sell to Texas consumers, the better it is for everybody in Texas!

I am adding this paragraph and picture after publishing this blog post because, well, I didn’t know about it!! I was looking at the Central Market website and down at the bottom in small print is the words potential suppliers! When I clicked on it I was taken to this web page. Interesting!

Author: Bob Whitney, Regents Fellow & Extension Organic Specialist

Agriculturalist, extension educator and researcher, organic agriculture enthusiast and promoter, international program developer, Christian, husband, father and friend.

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