Sugar: Would You Like Bone Char and GM Beets with That? (Safe Brands List included)

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

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 vs 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. Some blamed the USDA for partial-deregulation of GM beets multiple times between 2005 and 2011, resulting in more GM sugar beets being planted. 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.

Sugar source beets versus cane

Animal Bone Char In Cane Sugar?

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 without GM Beets 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.

Sugar with bone char

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! Organic sugar brands include:

  • Wholesome
  • 365 By Whole Foods Market
  • Kirkland Organic

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. Raw cane sugar products clearly mark “Raw” on the front label. They include:

  • Sugar In The Raw Granulated Turbinado Cane Sugar
  • Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Turbinado Raw Cane
  • Wholesome Natural Raw Cane

Option 3: Can’t Tell? Skip It

The Great Value Granulated Sugar 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. On the other hand, Great Value does have another sugar (Organic Cane Sugar) which clearly indicates cane sugar as the source, both on the front label as well as on its ingredient list.

Great Value Sugar beets and organic cane sugar

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, cane sugar, great value, non-gmo, sugar, sugar beets, vegetarian


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15 thoughts on “Sugar: Would You Like Bone Char and GM Beets with That? (Safe Brands List included)”

    • 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.

    • I have been using Walmart’s great value brand sugar, but I have noticed the hummingbirds are not as interested in my feeders this year. This started me on a deep dive into sugar . I was shocked to learn that great value has GMO products in it, and that it isn’t vegan because of the use of bone char. Won’t be buying that again.

  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.

    • Laws are so twisted there is no telling; I read somewhere that fracking water was allowable for irrigation of organic crops . (I should start saving the research/articles that I read)

  7. This has all been very informative. What I haven’t been able to find out is where Walmart brand sugar comes from. Is it from China? Personally, I think anything we consume and that can affect our health should have to state where it’s from, not simply “distributed by”.

    • Check out the “Country of Origin” on anything consumable. I always check a product online before I buy it, especially spices, either on a website or Google search. If it doesn’t list the country of origin, I don’t buy it.

  8. I knew something changed about this Great Value funny sugar, especially since I couldn’t find the word cane on the bag anywhere like I use to. It spiked my blood glucose big time. But the raw cane sugar don’t spike my blood sugar at all. And what I use to get in the way of white sugar before I started using raw cane sugar never spiked my blood glucose. So this funny sugar will be going in the trash.

  9. Wow! Just. WOW!
    I have been telling everyone for years to only buy cane sugar. I had no idea that it, too, was refined with cow bone char. Shame on me! I’m on a fixed income way below the poverty line. It’s near impossible to eat healthy. I rely on food bank baskets, which are full of high sodium content, high fructose corn syrup.
    And, that’s the good part. Most baked goods are mouldy.


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