Refined Sugar Whitened with Bovine Bone Char ~ Bad News for Vegetarians

by Sonia Ramachandran (Source: The Ant Daily)
PETALING JAYA: You are a vegetarian and naturally you assume your coffee, tea and egg-free cakes tailored for vegetarians are safe to consume, right?

This may not be the case if you take refined sugar.

In fact, refined sugar may be something that cannot be taken by all non-beef eating Malaysians.

Especially if the sugar used is derived from sugarcane.

According to an article in The Huffington Post on Jan 5, titled, “Your Sugar Might Be Made With Animal Bones. Sorry, Vegans”, the refining of sugar may include the use of animal bones.

“To manufacture table sugar from sugarcane, sugarcane stalks are crushed to separate the juice from the pulp. The juice is processed and heated to crystalize, and is then filtered and bleached with bone char, which results in sugar’s pristine white colour,” the article said.

It said this process is not used for beet sugar because this type of sugar doesn’t require the same extensive decolourisation.

In Malaysia, sugarcane is the major source of sugar production.

The Huffington Post article went on to say that in the United States, sugar companies use bone char derived from cows for the filtering and bleaching process for sugar derived from sugarcane.

“To make bone char, animal bones are heated at incredibly high temperatures and are reduced to carbon before being used in a refinery. The sugar does not actually contain bone char particles, but it does come into contact with them,” it said.

Malaysian Vegetarian Society president Dr P Vythilingam told Theantdaily that is why vegans and vegetarians should not take “refined sugar”.

He said he had written to a major sugar refinery with regard to the use of “bone char” in the refinery process but had yet to receive a reply.


“When they don’t reply, that is a problem,” said Vythilingam.

This was one of the reasons Vythilingam is asking the government to label all products that are safe for vegetarians with “vegan” and “vegetarian” labels.

Vythilingam explained that vegans are those who only consume food which are plant-based and do not take anything which has milk or milk products, while vegetarians take milk, with some even taking eggs.

“We have been asking for this labelling for more than 10 years. That is why I am starting a council where all organisations that are vegetarian-based will come under one group. This will make our membership about a million.

“With the council we are hoping our voice will be heard,” said Vythilingam, who is urging all vegetarian groups to join him.

His advice to vegetarians is this: “Do not take refined sugar. Refined sugar is all the white and brown sugar sold in the shops. Unrefined and unprocessed sugar will be the safest for those who are really vegetarian.

“Organic sugar should be safe too as it is not processed in the normal plant,” he said.

The Huffington Post article does state that not all cane sugar is refined with bone char with some companies relying on alternatives for filtering like granular carbon, which does not contain animal products.

“You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference by looking at the sugar or by tasting it, and loose sugar packets and packaged foods with non-descriptive ingredients can make it impossible for a person to distinguish sugar refined with bone char from its counterpart,” said the article.

A 2007 article on The Vegetarian Resource Group’s (VRG) website said companies in the United States still use cow bone char as the preferred filter for cane sugar, with some exceptions such as one refinery using an ion exchange system that cost $30 million, and another company using granular carbon instead of bone char while one company produces “turbinado sugar” that has not been processed through bone char.

The article said that it was the consumers’ love affair with “white, sweet foods” that made the sugar industry develop a sugar refining process that would produce “pure” white crystals.

It said that the most efficient and most economical whitening filters are bone char filters, thereby maintaining their position as the cane sugar filter of choice for the sugar industry.

Since sugar is not exactly an expensive commodity in Malaysia, one would presume the most economical processes are used in the filtering process.

The silence from the sugar refinery that Vythilingam wrote to also speaks volumes about the refining process.

Until the actual refining process used in this country is known, vegans, vegetarians and the non-beef eating community might want to err on the side of caution and stick with unprocessed or unrefined sugar.

See more at: The Ant Daily




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