Were Cows Harmed for Your Sugar?

Living a plant-based lifestyle has become significantly easier in the U.S. over the past decade. Foods are routinely labelled as “vegan” when they’re free of animal products, restaurants are much better about accommodating vegan customers, formal wear without leather is becoming more mainstream and health care providers are less skeptical of alternative diets.

One surprising area of continued confusion is sugar. While sugar itself is obviously a plant-based product, with all mainstream table sugars coming from sugar canes or sugar beets, the process by which sugar is refined remains archaic in many cases. Unbeknownst to customers, much of the table sugar in the U.S. is filtered through bone char, specifically from cows. Whole Foods now even offers an explicitly vegan sugar in its stores. But you don’t need to live near a Whole Foods to be sure you’re getting animal-free sugar.

It’s important to note that only cane sugar is refined through bone char. The reason is because cane sugar requires a refining process to render it white, while beet sugar can be de-colored through an easy diffusion process. Unfortunately, beet and cane sugar taste identical and aren’t always labelled. Making matters more complicated, brown sugar has often been processed through bone char too. The brown color is due to the flavoring and coloring process done after the sugar has already been refined to a white color.

Despite all of these confusing specifics, the answer isn’t as complicated as it seems. Absolutely all USDA-certified organic sugar is vegan by default. The charcoal refining process cannot be done on organic sugar, so purchasing this is completely safe. Also, the following sugar-products are totally vegan:

-All organic cane juice products
-Turbinado sugar

Sucrose can be a problem, as it doesn’t specify a source. So you’d need to ask the company to be sure.

If you’re not looking to spend an afternoon reading sugar labels, here’s a handy guide for companies that only produce animal-free sugars.

Now you can purchase sugar with the confidence that animals weren’t exploited in its production. For companies that continue to use bone char, consider writing or calling their customer service to let them know that you won’t be purchasing until they commit to using animal-free production processes.




JD She2 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

Stay alert

Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen3 years ago

Thank you

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 3 years ago

More than likely, as crazy as things are today!

John W.
3 years ago

I didn't know this 😕 I'll stick to buying British sugar in future.
British grow sugar is always made with beet sugar.

Edith B.
Edith B3 years ago

Thanks, I did not know this.

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

M Quann
M Q3 years ago