We are frequently asked about the use of 'animal bones' in making sugar, usually by people with dietary concerns such as vegetarians or vegans or people just concerned for the animals.
In the past a material called 'bone char' was used extensively to remove colour from raw cane sugar in the refining process. Modern technology has largely replaced bone char decolourisation but it is still used in a few refineries so one cannot be categoric about refined cane sugar being suitable for all people's points of view. It is not used in making white beet sugar and it is not used in making raw cane sugar.
Where bone char is still used, it is prepared by almost incinerating animal bones to leave activated carbon - a bit like making wood charcoal. [The refiners did not and ordinarily do not use wood charcoal to do the decolourisation because it is too fragile and would break up in service.] The bones are obtained from abattoirs and hence from animals fit for human consumption and of course they are heated to great temperatures : there is no risk of New Variant CJD/BSE/Mad Cow disease and no risk of Foot and Mouth disease.
If you are concerned about the possibility of the sugar you use having been treated by bone char decolourisation then you have several choices. If you want white sugar and sugar from sugar beets is available then use that. If you are not sure if the local sugar is from beets or cane, write to the manufacturer and ask them, adding that, if it is cane sugar, whether they still use bone char. If you want brown sugar, do not assume that it is inherently untreated. Many brown sugars are actually white sugar which has been coated with molasses. Again, check with the manufacturer if you are concerned.
We hope that you found this useful.