I’m not usually the pugnacious sort, except in instances where I perceive an ethical wrong. I certainly felt a strong spur to dole out some objurgation this time round.
Not too long ago I wrote about my own personal discovery of the use of bone char in the sugar industry. After that enlightenment I switched to the Wholesome Sweeteners line of sugars which is certified vegan, organic and bone char free. That said, I was curious about the vegan status of sugar in Canada so I decided to do some research into the Canadian sugar industry and see what the deal was with the use of bone char here.
There are three main Canadian sugar companies: Rogers, Lantic (owned by Rogers), and Redpath.
I started with Rogers Sugar first. I also wrote to the Toronto Vegetarian Association, knowing them to be ever knowledgeable and helpful. In a simple internet search I came up with abundant information that indicated Rogers Sugar used bone char in its cane sugar refinery in Vancouver, British Columbia. Rogers also operates a beet sugar refinery in Taber, Alberta. It is my understanding that beet sugar does not require carbon filtration in its refining and thus bone char is not an issue with beet sugar. In my enquiry to Rogers I also enquired about the availability of the Taber beet sugar in the Toronto market.
I also came across a site that purports to be the authority on the sugar industry in Canada, The Canadian Sugar Institute. I visited their contact page and dropped them a line, asking if they could identify for me any Canadian sugar companies that did not use bone char.
Soon the responses to some of my enquiries started coming in.
First up, Rogers Sugar. The Rogers rep informed me that the Taber beet sugar was regretfully not available to the Toronto market and was sold only in Western Canada. He did happily tell me, however, that the Lantic cane sugar refinery in Montreal (owned by Rogers) did not employ the use of bone char and was available in Toronto. Happy Times, right? Not quite.
Next up, I received a series of communications from the Toronto Vegetarian Association. They had made enquiries on my behalf to each of the big three. Additionally, they provided me with information that confirmed not only that Rogers used bone char, but Lantic used it as well. Either the Rogers rep is misinformed or Lantic’s own website (where the information is clearly laid out in black and white) is inaccurate. The fun didn’t stop there.
I decided to take a closer look at the many-layered Canadian Sugar Institute site. Lo and behold, buried deep in a Q & A section I happened upon a startling bit of misinformation.
In the section titled Nutritional Information Service, subsection, From Field to Table, sub-subsection Sugar Production, there is a question and answer that appears as follows (emphasis mine):
Are animal products used in the sugar filtering process?
No. All sugar sold in Canada must be purified through a series of steps, including filtering, before it is packaged and distributed. Beet sugar is filtered through diatomaceous earth; whereas resins are used in cane sugar refining; both of which are not of animal origin.
Excuse me? did I just read an emphatic answer of no to the question of whether animal products are used in the sugar filtering process in Canada? Since when is bone char, made from the crushed bones of cows, not of animal origin? Knowing their statement to be an absolute falsehood I wrote to The Canadian Sugar Institute to let them know about their error. We’ve already found evidence indicating that two of the big three Canadian sugar companies use bone char – this is certain (as of this writing I cannot attest to the bone char status of the third company, Redpath, but will update when I confirm). Just sloppiness?
People look to entities such as The Canadian Sugar Institute as an authority on the subject and here they are presenting false information. Indeed, when I visited the Redpath sugar site, at the bottom of their Sugar FAQ section they encourage visitors seeking more information to visit The Canadian Sugar Institute site. Point made.
As of this writing I have received no response from the Canadian Sugar Institute and their site stands as it was.
April 21 – Update: I’m very happy to report that Toronto based Redpath Sugar responded to my enquiry with excellent news – they do NOT use bone char in their refining process, opting instead to use more modern methods.
April 24 – Update: The Canadian Sugar Institute addressed my enquiry about their website content today. This is what they wrote:
Thank you for contacting the Canadian Sugar Institute with your comments regarding an inaccurate statement on our website. While it is true that resins are now the most widely used filtering agent for sugar cane refining in Canada, you are correct that Rogers Sugar does in fact use bone char (an animal product) in its Vancouver refinery as part of the filtering process. Redpath Sugar and Lantic Sugar do not use bone char.
The accuracy of the information given to the public is taken very seriously at the Canadian Sugar Institute. Please be assured that this misinformation was an oversight on our part and that it was not our intent to mislead the public on this issue. We intend to clarify this issue by correcting the information on the website as quickly as possible.
It is important to note as well that while bone char can be used in the filtering process of sugar cane, sugar is a natural plant product and no residues from bone char will remain in the final purified sugar. There is no animal material present in the sugar that we consume.
Thank you again for your helpful comments.
I’m very pleased with their response – bravo to them for taking the steps to correct their mistake.
The information they provided in their response regarding Lantic’s non-bone char status conflicts with Lantic’s website (which indicates that they DO use bone char). This may be due to the fact that Rogers now owns Lantic and the Lantic site is merely a reflection of the Rogers site (Rogers USES bone char). On closer inspection of the Rogers and Lantic sites one can see that their FAQ sections are in fact identical (including question #5 which makes reference to the use of bone char).
I believe that The Canadian Sugar Institute is being truthful in their response to me despite what Lantic’s site is saying about itself. This would indicate that Lantic is bone char free along with Redpath.
So yay for Redpath and Lantic and boo on Rogers.