Vegans are furious that new British banknotes contain animal fat

The introduction of polymer cash hasn't gone as smoothly as the Bank of England had hoped.

On November 28, the Bank of England admitted on Twitter that its new polymer banknotes are made with trace amounts of tallow, which is sourced from animal fat, usually cow, but sometimes pig.

This has upset many Britons who are uncomfortable using items that contain animal byproducts. A petition has circulated in recent days, asking the Bank to fix the problem as soon as possible:

“The new £5 notes contain animal fat in the form of tallow. This is unacceptable to millions of vegans, vegetarians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others in the U.K. We demand that you cease to use animal products in the production of currency that we have to use.”

The petition has received more than 122,000 signatures in four days.

Reactions to the petition are mixed. For those who does not share vegans’ perspective on the world, it can be difficult to understand why having trace amounts of tallow is such a big deal. David Solomon, an Australian professor who helped pioneer the polymer bank notes in the late 1980s, says vegans are being “stupid.” He told an Australian radio station:

“It’s absolutely stupid. There’s trivial amounts of it in there. [Polymer] picks up less drugs than paper notes and you don’t chop down trees. It’s more hygienic than a paper note by a long way.”

According to Innovia Films, the company that manufactures the polymer used for banknotes in 23 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Singapore, and Canada, there are “minute” traces of tallow added to make the notes more “anti-static.”

A spokeswoman for Innovia said, “They are looking to eliminate [tallow], but obviously that will take time. It's a very difficult process.”

For vegans and religious groups, such as Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, who take issue with the so-called “corpse cash,” this is a very big deal. They are accustomed to researching products in depth and there usually are vegan alternatives available; but when a country’s actual cash contains tallow, it becomes more complicated.

To be vegan goes beyond the dinner plate. As Chas Newkey-Burden writes for The Guardian, veganism is defined as a bid “to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

Newkey-Burden acknowledges that vegans, who make up 1 percent of Britain’s population, are often viewed as extremists by the rest of society, but he argues that “there is nothing more extreme than what animal agriculture is doing to the planet and its non-human residents.”

“A recent study found that 88 percent of Britons didn’t realise that most pigs are killed at just six months of age, even though their natural lifespan is 15 years. Two-thirds were unaware that on egg farms killing all male chicks at a day or two old is standard practice. Many were unaware that little piglets routinely have their tails amputated and teeth removed without anaesthesia. After becoming aware of this reality, one in six said that they would give up meat and dairy entirely… It is from this world that tallow emerges.”

While pressure mounts on the Bank to come up with an alternative as quickly as possible, this could be an excellent opportunity to shed some light on the meat industry, which – whether you’re vegan or not – absolutely needs to come out of the shadows and be held accountable for its practices.

Tags: England | Finances | Vegan

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