Today most people acknowledge that animals are killed for meat and leather too, but few realise that bones, hooves and horns land up as ingredients of many products. According to Global AgriSystem close to 21 lakh tonnes of cattle bones are annually generated from India’s livestock.

Just like meat and leather are considered two sides of the same coin, bones are the substance in-between because they fetch the butcher a good price too. Cattle bones (cows, bulls, buffaloes) are commonly used. Bones of camels and horses are also utilised. When the use of ivory was banned, most artisans promptly shifted to the use of camel and cattle bones.

Bones of cattle, buffaloes and pigs weigh about 12-30% of weight of the animals; and in sheep and goats the bones weigh 20-30%. Bones consist of organic and inorganic matter in the ratio 1:2. Ossein or bone collagen is the organic component, whereas 33% calcium & 15% phosphorus is inorganic. Bone marrow (red and yellow) is 96% fat.

There are two types of bones: green or fresh bones, and desert or dried bones. The green ones are from animals just slaughtered and are therefore heavy containing 50% moisture, 15% bone marrow, 12% organic matter and 23% inorganic matter. The desert ones are decomposed bones of fallen animals that have been exposed to decay, bacteria & insects, are devoid of meat, fat & tendon, and are therefore light in weight containing dried ossein, calcium and phosphorus.

Bones of cattle, taken from slaughter houses, are utilised in the making of handicrafts like carvings, in-lay work, show pieces, trinkets, etc. Ironically, these items are allowed to be exported even though beef export is banned. (Bovine meat from buffalo and Mithun is allowed.)

In January 2017, the export of bone, horn and hooves and their products, ossein (collagen of bones), worked bone (excluding whale bone) worked horn, coral and other animal carving material and articles thereof, buttons and blanks, to the European Union was allowed subject to a ‘Shipment Clearance Certificate’ and a ‘Production Process Certificate’ which is actually a formality required for all Animal By-Products exported from India to the EU.

Green or fresh bones (those that are not brittle) derived from young, healthy, slaughtered animals, mainly cattle, are crushed, sold and processed as follows:

• Blood and tallow or animal fat is first removed from the bones and is sold as poultry/animal feed and to the soap & detergent industry

• Crushed bones are sold to the edible gelatine, pharmaceutical and photographic industries

• Raw or steamed bone meal is sold as organic fertilisers and animal feed

• Steamed horn & hooves meal are sold as organic fertilisers

• Meat & bone meal is sold as animal feed

• Bone ash is sold as poultry feed and to the ceramic industry for making bone china

• Bone ash or calcined bones are also sold to be used in cupellation (metallurgy) for the production of gold and silver

• Bone grist is sold as raw material for bone charcoal production

• Horns, hooves, bones and even sculls are sold to be converted into parts of various musical instruments

The most commonly presumed use of bones is in sugar making which needs clarification. Filtration and decolourisation techniques for cane sugar can involve either bone char, traditional granular/activated carbon (coal, wood, coconut), or the use of synthetic ion exchange resins. Manufacturers of cane sugar in India use the latter or sulphur dioxide. Therefore the sugar derived from Indian refineries is vegan.

This was reiterated when in 2017 Beauty Without Cruelty got 5 randomly chosen brands of sugar samples tested via Delhi based Voice Society (a consumer organisation) at one of NABL’s (National Accreditation Board for testing and calibration Laboratories) test labs, the Shriram Institute for Industrial Research, for DNA of animal origin. It was not detected. This scientifically proved that cane sugar made in India was indeed vegan.

Animal bones are burnt at high temperatures to obtain not only bone char, but also bone black, ivory black and animal charcoal used mainly for filtering water (removing fluoride), refining crude oil in the production of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and as a black pigment (paint, printing ink, etc).

Bone china originated in England in the 1700s and for a long time was only made there. Fine china, bone china and ordinary china, all contain about 50% bone ash (burnt bones), whereas true porcelain is made of kaolin (clay) and minerals. Earthenware (clay, quartz and feldspar), stoneware and most ceramics are also free of animal substances except when shellac-coated for shine. Ceramic material is inorganic and non-metallic – often crystalline oxide, nitride or carbide.

Usually “bone china” is printed at the bottom of the item, but if it isn’t, to ascertain whether the crockery contains bone ash or not, hold it up to the light, with your other hand touch the item from the back at the bottom of the cup or back of the plate and move your finger in small circular motions. Bone china is translucent therefore if it is so, the movement of your finger will be visible.

For bone china animal bones are thoroughly cleaned and heated to about 1000 C to sterilise them. They are then ground fine with water. This bone ash is an essential ingredient of bone china: the phosphate of bone generates beta tricalcium phosphate and other compounds from bone create a calcium crystal called anorthite.

BWC has produced a one of a half minute informative film in Hindi called Bone China ki Sachaai which can be viewed on You Tube

“Green” disposable tableware is increasingly used to serve food at weddings in Mumbai. It is made from plants like sugarcane, sorghum and wheat and spoons and forks from corn starch. Such an alternative to bone china as well as throw away plastic plates and spoons, has been invented by an entrepreneur from Hyderabad: Bakeys Foods’ edible cutlery is made by using sorghum, rice and wheat flour and some items have sugar, ginger or black pepper added. Another alternative making a comeback is earthenware, and not only as Diwali diyas, handis and sakoras used for rituals. Its making varies as per region, but basically the sedimentary soil used for making terracotta pots is a renewable resource and the process of making them is environmentally friendly since no chemicals are used and no pollution is caused. Terracotta cookware and tableware is an excellent alternative to bone china as long as it is well fired and of a good quality.

For example, teacups from Azamgargh of Uttar Pradesh have a shiny black colour because the terracotta is fired till it becomes fully baked and strong. Dry leaves are put into the furnace at the end resulting in soot. Mustard oil is then smeared and after another firing the black colour and shine gets fixed. Manipuri is famous for longpi pottery which is also black in colour but this is due to mixing black stone powder with the clay although the pots are made and fired in the same way as terracotta. The edges and handles of longpi pottery is typically decorated with cane weaving. Another area famous for earthenware is Gundiyali in Kutch. Using their bare hands the potters create perfectly shaped matkas and ghadas for water storage and some times paint beautiful intricate designs on the pots.

In 2017 with the aim of making the state plastic-free, the Kerala Suchitwa Mission launched a drive asking wedding and other event organisers to serve food on plantain leaves and drinking water in steel glasses in place of disposable plastic items. Many Iftar party organisers readily followed the protocol.

Bone ash is also used as a fertilizer for plants, or it could be treated with sulphuric acid to permeate the soil better.

Crushed slaughter house derived bones, horns and hooves also land up as bone meal or organic fertiliser. In fact, horn and hoof meal is not mixed with cattle feed bone meal because it is indigestible. There was a time when bone meal was used as a human dietary calcium supplement but it is no longer recommended because of toxic metal contamination. The mad cow disease fear stopped bone meal from being used as a human dietary calcium supplement.

Another derivative of animal bones and other body-parts is gelatine and still in use in India and exported too. It is almost synonymous with jelly, although crystals made of vegetable gums are available. In addition to being an ingredient of very many foods (E 441), gelatine is widely used by the pharmaceutical industry in the form of capsules, a binder in tablets, and plasma extender in blood transfusion. Manufacturers say they use buffalo bones but just by looking at them no one can ascertain whether the bones are those of buffalo or cow. To a lesser extent gelatine is utilised by the cosmetic, photographic, paper, textile, leather and glue industries. Whether edible or not, gelatine is of animal origin. Alternatives are agar-agar, carrageenan, pectin, konjac and cellulose.

BWC’s campaign against the use of gelatine capsules has not in effect been successful. Pharmaceutical manufacturers continue to resist the use of veg capsules because gelatine ones are cheaper. Few label the capsules they utilise as being veg.

For detailed information on Gelatine please read

Glue is in fact inferior gelatine (no difference chemically) and is obtained and processed in the same manner as gelatine. Rejected hides and skins, hide trimmings such as marks, snouts, ears, shanks, skin of slunk/unborn animals, tendons, sinews, horn pith, casings and loose connective tissues are used to produce them. Glue being low-grade is comparatively dark in colour and has inedible uses such as adhesive in plywood, furniture, sand paper, gummed tape, etc. Zinc sulphate is used as a preservative to extend its keeping quality.

Manufacturers prefer glue that is animal derived over polymer because it is stronger and the cardboard on which it is applied does not warp. It is commonly used for book binding and for sealing cartons of packaged food articles and boxes. Following a ban on the use of plastic straws, paper straws are being used. Few people know that they are made by rolling three layers of bleached waste paper and dipping in glue.

Neets foot oil is prepared from the hooves of cattle that are immediately cut off in the slaughter house. The average yield per animal is less than half a litre. The oil does not solidify or dry even in freezing temperatures and is used as a lubricant for delicate machinery (aircraft, watches, ships), by the leather and textile industries, and pharmaceutical industry (ointments).

It would not be out of place to include cartilages on this page because both bones and cartilages are supporting connective tissues. Cow cartilage is used in the treatment of arthritis, healing wounds, skin ailments and certain cancers however, the possibility of catching mad cow disease/bovine spongiform encephalitis/BSE through its use is of course high. Few know that vaccines like Rotavirus administered to children worldwide to immunise them against gastroenteritis, and Thrombin commonly used to prevent blood clots during surgeries are manufactured using bovine serum derived from foetuses of cows. Animal derived constituents in anaesthesia and surgery are common. Bone grafts (utilised for dental implants in particular) can be of bovine, porcine or ovine origin, and silk, purified catgut, collagen, cow/sheep intestines sutures could be used. Polymer surgical sutures made from polydiozanone (PDO), polyglycolic acid (PGA) seem to be non animal in origin, but polylactic acid (PLA) can be from shells.

Bone jewellery is something people think of as ancient or may be tribal, but unfortunately it is still crafted and sold today. Bones, horns, antlers, teeth, nails, claws, shells, mammoth/elephant ivory, buffalo/rhino horn (legal and illegal) are all utilized in the making of ornaments. Raw bones used to make jewellery are first washed in soapy water with a stiff brush to remove all meat, gristle and ligaments. They are then boiled in diluted hydrochloric or sulfuric acid until the greasy texture is no longer felt. This is followed by drying and bleaching. Eventually cutting, carving and engraving. There is no doubt that dangerous chemicals are utilized.

Bones of birds being small in size are easily carved and snake vertebrae are like ready made beads. Earlier these and other bone beads were strung on a strip on animal sinew but now leather chords are used. Bone jewellery can include feathers, shells, bone dust inlay or be hollow with metal, glass or wood combinations. Indonesian craftsmen who paint and lacquer-coat their bone bead jewellery cater to the global organic jewellery market as it is called.

Shockingly there was a video being circulated on WhatsApp showing human bones collected at cremation grounds being machine made into rings and buttons. In short, bones are bones, and one can never be sure of their origin.

Cupellation is a very high temperature metallurgy process via which noble/precious metals like gold and silver are separated from base metals like lead, copper, zinc, arsenic, antimony or bismuth present in the ore – noble metals do not oxidise or react chemically. Since bone ash or calcined bones have an extremely porous, calcareous structure and a very high melting point, they are to this day used to make cupels or vessels shaped in the form of inverted truncated cones that are utilised for the process.

Decorative bone in-lay work is often found on Indian musical instruments. Originally done in ivory, later shifted to camel or other animal bones, but plastic is still not always utilized. String instruments usually have a flat bridge called jawari which is made of camel bone although plastic jawari guards last longer. Similarly piano and harmonium keys were at one time made from ivory but now white plastic is often utilized.

Page last updated on 27/09/23