FacebookTwitterGoogle+YouTubePodcasts on iTunesPinterest
Banner
Banner

The Sour Side of Sugar

Yes. I am going there. Sugar is not always vegan and I think that you should care. Most of us care if our wine was filtered through a fish bladder, and refuse to eat gelatin, so shouldn’t we care if cows died to refine our sugar? I think we should, especially because it is just as easy for a company to source and use cruelty-free sugar as it is to use non-vegan sugar. A friend of mine, Serina Romeo, has been aware of the sugar issue for some time—her passion and arguments opened me up to the issue. I had originally thought it was too difficult to consume only vegan sugar, and I am still not there yet.  However, Serina’s conviction made me take the issue seriously and after some thought and research this is clearly a topic worth caring about if you care about animals.

Why isn’t sugar vegan?Image by Flickr user QuintanaRoo used under Creative Commons License

Sugar comes mainly from two sources—sugar cane and beets. Sugar from these sources is typically refined so that the molasses is removed and it is white. The refining of beet sugar never uses any animal products and so beet sugar is cruelty free (provided there are no issues with the company’s labor and environmental practices, which there probably are, but this post will not address these issues). However, the process used to filter cane sugar may use bone char. So, it is not that sugar itself has animal products in it, but that some sugar from sugar cane is not vegan because it uses bone char in its processing.

Bone char is sterilized, dehydrated, and powdered bone. In the case of sugar, bone char comes from cows. It is used much in the same way that charcoal is used in your water filter at home—it draws out certain compounds, which stick to it and are removed from the sugar as it passes through the filter. Bone char is used to remove particles that color sugar in order to produce white sugar. The folks at the Vegetarian Resource Group have described the process in depth for those wishing to know more about the process.

Just because sugar is brown does not mean it did not use bone char either. Brown sugar is produced by refining sugar and then adding molasses back into it, so unless it is labeled, it is unclear if the sugar is vegan or not. However, sugar that is brown because it is unrefined or raw is vegan, even if it is from sugar cane. There are a couple key words to look for if you want to know if sugar is vegan. Beet, Unrefined, USDA Organic and Raw are all phrases that let you know bone char was not used in your sugar.  The labels cane, brown, granulated, or just plain sugar don’t clarify, and so you can not know without contacting the company.

This is not as much of an issue in all countries. Australian sugar manufacturers have cut out the bone char, but consumers in the US the UK and many other countries need to be wary. However, even in a country like Australia, if purchasing products from another country you must be careful, as the folks at Vegetarian Network Victoria point out in regard to Tofutti products. 

Why Care?

Lots of cows are dying. Sugar just doesn’t seem as sweet when someone dies to make it. Bone char doesn’t not come from nowhere, it comes from someone—in order to get bone char, cows must be killed, then their bones are dried and treated to become bone char.

Knowing the exact sources of bone char and how many cows are used is difficult, as it requires sugar companies to voluntarily release that information.  The folks at the Vegetarian Resource Group have estimated the number based on feedback they received from sugar industry officials. They estimate that about 7,800 cows are needed for a single commercial sugar filter.

One rebuttal to the argument that vegetarians and vegans should not eat sugar made with bone char is that there is waste from animal slaughter anyway, so at least by consuming this product you are not directly contributing to the problem. However, as the folks at Gentle World point out, helping these companies dispose of their waste in a profitable manner boosts their industry:

“When eating refined sugar, although you are not actually ingesting an animal product, the money you pay to the company ultimately pays the animal industry for bones or bone char. It’s important to keep in mind that the sale of slaughterhouse by-products, including bones, blood and other body parts such as tendons (as in gelatin), helps the animal industry to make money from the disposal of their waste, and thereby stay profitable. As abstract as it may seem, your purchase of sugar (or products which contain sugar) may be supporting the animal industry.”

You have a choice, the cows don’t. As a compassionate individual, you choose to avoid needless suffering whenever possible. Hopefully you are vegan or working on it, you may buy cruelty free products, search for fair trade brands and opt out of businesses that exploit their workers. Unfortunately, there are currently many situations in which you don’t have a choice to be more compassionate—if you need antibiotics, there is no way to purchase any that were not tested on animals; you may live in a city that filters all its water through bone char; if you have a bike or a car or a cell phone, you cannot choose a brand that wasn’t built without exploiting the earth, animals, and humans.

At the same time, there are a number of products where you do have choices. If you are reading this, the likelihood is that you are exceptionally privileged—you are literate, able to be educated about these issues, and have access to markets where you can choose what to purchase and what to leave on the shelf.

When it comes to what we eat, our clothes, and our beauty products, there is usually a choice between products that hurt animals and ones that try not to. That is why so many of you who are reading this chose not to eat animals. When it comes to cosmetics, alcohol, and sugar products the choice is even more simple, though it is often overlooked. In these cases products that use animal byproducts or exploit animals are 100% identical to those products that do not, except for one financially bolsters the factory farming of animals. When given two comparable options, it makes no sense to choose the option that causes suffering.

You are voting with your money. Animal exploitation will not end until the current system of capitalism that governs our communities is eradicated. However, if you are like me, you have not opted out of capitalism completely. That means you go to stores and spend money, so please be conscientious about where you spend that money.

Some individuals and organizations argue that to be too ‘militant’ about veganism is to make veganism unattainable. For example, PETA encourages that to avoid seeming too fussy you should not focus on the parts of the ingredients listed as being “less than 2%” of the product. However, if you are engaging in veganism for ethical reasons, you should care if your sugar is vegan. This is not militant or dogmatic, it is basic—you shouldn’t financially support corporations and business that exploit animals.

It is simple and cost efficient for companies to choose cruelty-free forms of sugar, so willingly buying into companies and products that choose to exploit animals is supporting the exploitation and killing of animals.

This is even more apparent when considering vegetarian and vegan companies and restaurants. If their bottom line is to serve our community they should adhere to our ethics. Demanding vegan sugar is something that can lead to changes in these companies and so we should demand it every time.

Where to go from here (if you only want to consume vegan sugar).

Ask questions, and lots of them. Call companies, inquire with restaurants, read labels, request a shift from the companies you buy from. It is an extra step, and one that may take a while to be used to—I still suck at it to be honest. But I do try and, like anything new, I am expecting that the practice will become easier with time. But the bottom line is that the potential benefit to cows will always have more value than any discomfort you may avoid or time you may save.

VEGAN SUGAR LIST

This list is compiled from various sources.  Please note, this list is centered on the US, with some information on the UK as well. I have not done any fact checking on my own to verify online sources. This is all to say this list is likely not perfect so if you have conflicting information, please This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . If someone is interested in maintaining a user-driven website such as Barnivore, relating to sugar products, that is a great idea and I encourage you to do it—it is something from which our community will benefit. Serina Romeo is interested in working on a project like this so This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

PRODUCT

IS THE SUGAR VEGAN?

TYPES OF SUGAR

100% Pure Beet Sugar 

Yes

100% Pure Cane Sugar

Depends on brand

Beet Syrup

Yes

Brown sugar

Depends on brand

Confectioner’s sugar

Depends on brand

Demerara

Yes

(Except - English LONDON DEMERARA

Evaporated cane juice 

Yes

Fructose

Depends on brand

Granulated Sugar

Depends on brand

Invert sugar

No

Muscovado 

(also known as BARBADOS SUGAR)

Yes

Organic Sugars

Yes

Sucanat (granulated and powdered)

Yes

Turbinado

Yes

USDA certified organic sugar, any brand

Yes

   

PRODUCTS & BRANDS--US

(from Serina Romeo)

 

Bean Fields Nacho chips

Yes

Ben and Jerry's Sorbet

Yes

C&H Pure Cane Sugar

No, but raw and organic versions are OK

Chocolate Decadence

No, but organic versions are OK

Cracker Jacks

No

Domino Sugar

No, but raw and organic versions are OK

Double Rainbow soy ice cream

Yes

Florida Crystals

Yes

Gillian's Foods

No

Kettle salsa picante tias

No

Kraft Foods

No

Newman's O's, vanilla cream chocolate sandwich cookies

Yes

Oreo Cookies

No

Shady Maple Farms Granulated Maple Sugar

Yes

Tofutti, non-organic versions

No, but organic versions are OK

(from www.gentleworld.org)

 

Imperial Sugar Company

Yes

Irish Sugar Ltd

Yes

Monitor Sugar Company

Yes

Pillsbury

Yes

Rapunzel Rapadura

Yes

Refined Sugars Incorporated

Yes

Sugar in the Raw

Yes

SuperValu

Yes

Supreme Sugar Company

Yes

Tate & Lyle North American Sugars Inc

Yes

Western Sugar

Yes

Wholesome Sweeteners Sucanat

Yes

   

PRODUCTS & BRANDS--UK

(from International Vegetarian Union)

 

Billingtons

Yes

Silversoon, white

Yes

Silversppon, brown

No guarantee from company

Tate and Lyle

Yes

vegina

vegina has been blogging since 2009 about animal liberation, feminism, and the ways in which oppressions intersect.

VIP members of Viva La Vegan! can add to this section


© Viva La Vegan!Using Green Hosting | Site by DesignVoodoo.com
  • tweet
    #VEGAN #artist or #illustrator wanted for vegan #athletes upcoming #book #cover. Contact with #portfolio ow.ly/DxTTR
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia Licence Creative Commons Licence