Sugar: Would You Like Bone Char and GM Beets with That?

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Last Updated on:

Sugar: It’s a topic that’s always controversial. It turns out there’s a lot more than just calories and obesity that we need to worry about when it comes to sugar!

Sugar: Cane versus Beets

Regular white sugar is made from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Both are plants that naturally contain large amounts of sucrose, which is refined into the sugar. So why should you care whether your sugar is made from sugar cane or sugar beets? As of 2010, 95% of sugar beets are primarily a GMO crop in the United States. Although the USDA finally called for deregulation of GM beets in June last year, most of the sugar refined from sugar beets is still from GM sources. These GM beets are modified to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup. The same is true in Canada; sugar beets are primarily a GMO crop and are grown in Southern Alberta.

Would You Like Animal Bone Char with That?

You might think the solution is just not to buy sugar refined from sugar beets and to switch to sugar refined from sugar cane. That’s a good logical thought process! But what you may not know is that sugar cane is mostly refined with animal bone char, usually from cows. The bone char is used in the cane-refining process to help make sugar white in color. Some manufacturers call this cow bone char “natural charcoal.” It may be natural, but this is not good news for vegans and those with allergies.

Sugar with No GM Beets and or Bone Char?

This is the difficult part. That’s why it took me much longer to compile this list than it did when I compiled a list of Canadian brands of sugar. One reason is that manufacturers don’t really label sugar properly; the other is that some did not respond to my inquiries. For instance, I learned that three out of four refining plants for Domino Foods (which makes Domino Sugar and C&H Sugar) use bone char in the cane-refining process, while one out of two Imperial Sugar refining factories use bone char, and there’s no easy way for consumers to figure out which plant their sugar was refined at. In Canada, only the Vancouver plant uses bone char for Rogers Sugar, and sugar from that plant is marked with a code 10 on the the package.


Option 1: Go Organic

If you would like a sugar that is not from GM sugar beets or bone-char-refined sugar cane, go organic! Organic products cannot come from GMO sources, and none of the organic sugar cane I’ve found use bone char, so these are your best bets! Brands such as Florida Crystals, Wholesome, and Hain produce organic sugar.

Option 2: Choose Raw Cane

Cane sugar is not genetically modified – yet. So choose raw sugar, turbinado, and demerara; they are not refined using bone char. Many national brands carry raw sugar, like C&H and Domino. Please note that brown sugar is NOT a raw sugar.

Option 3: Can’t Tell? Skip It

The Great Value brand sold in Walmart is a typical example. It doesn’t say what the source of the sugar is. A quick online search revealed that it contains both GM sugar beets and sugar cane, and that bone char is used in refining the sugar cane.

Tell Us: Which brand of sugar do you use? If you are not sure about the source or bone char use for the sugar brand you usually purchase, comment below and we will do some investigative work.

Health, Lifestyle

bone char, non-gmo, organic, sugar, sustainable eating, vegetarian

Is Calcium Citrate Better Than Calcium Carbonate?

Kamut: Health Benefits and How-To

9 thoughts on “Sugar: Would You Like Bone Char and GM Beets with That?”

    • I also use Zulka…I use to have it delivered by Ugh…Walmart…But they decided to stop delivering…Sometimes…Plus, the cost is $2 per 4lb. bag…

  1. I mainly use plain sugar to feed hummingbirds. I bought a bag of Great Value sugar at Walmart. Now after a few days the hummingbird mix turns cloudy. The sugar I normally use doesn’t. I change the mixture regularly and normally buy name brand sugar. Don’t know if the cloudy mixture will hurt the hummingbirds but I will not take a chance. No more “Great Value” sugar in my house.

  2. I only recently, within the last few years, bothered to notice on the package of sugar that it was made from sugar beets which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing except that 95% of beets are GMO and I’m not sure I want to be eating GMO products. So I made an effort to buy cane sugar. And now I find out that the cane sugar process uses bone char. Yuck. I’m not vegan or vegetarian but bone char sounds disgusting. I guess I’m going to switch to organic cane sugar. I assume it can be used just like regular granulated sugar.

  3. Wow! Not a clue – I didn’t know any of this. We live where the beets grow. I bake a lot and this is really discouraging. It will make baking much more expensive ☹️

  4. I purchased a bag of Walmart sugar that was unusually sweet and asked the main office about it. I received no reply. I recently bought a new bag and it was a too sweet sugar. A half teaspoon is too much for a large glass of tea. Can anyone explain this? [email protected]. (The “r” is not in caps.)

  5. Great Value sugar is also dirty. Bug parts? Bug waste? Little balls of off color, who knows what. Nothing big enough ti identify but makes me wonder.

  6. I learned that sugar is filtered through cattle bone char the hard way, after developing an allergy to alpha gal. My husband made me a “vegan” pumpkin pie and I went into GI anaphylaxis. I researched each ingredient he used and learned about cattle bone char. Since switching to “certified organic” I haven’t had any reactions to sugar. Though, some products labeled “organic” (not certified) I have reacted to.


Leave a Comment

Like our content? Sign up and receive a free shopping guide and the first chapter of the GoUndiet Book via email!

Note: We DO NOT share your email with anyone!