This week, the Bank of England (BoE) admitted that its new £5 notes contain animal products. The statement came via Twitter, and a backlash inevitably ensued. An online petition has already collected, at the time of writing, almost 115,000 signatures.
Almost as quickly, Scotland’s banknote producers all confirmed that their banknotes are free of any animal products.
The BoE tweet came in reply to a question from vegan Steffi Rox, who asked “Is it true the new £5 notes contain tallow?” The BoE answered with surprising honesty:
@SteffiRox there is a trace of tallow in the polymer pellets used in the base substrate of the polymer £5 notes
The Bank of England subsequently confirmed this in a statement to CNBC. “We can confirm that the polymer pellet from which the base substrate is made contains a trace of a substance known as tallow,” it said. “Tallow is derived from animal fats (suet) and is a substance that is also widely used in the manufacture of candles and soap.”
The new fiver, which has Winston Churchill on the back, is the country’s first plastic bill. A polymer note lasts way longer than a paper one, and can be recycled at the end of its life. That means that much less energy is used in manufacturing and transportation. However, the admission of the addition of tallow has complicated things somewhat. In a new statement, the BoE has said that it is treating concerns “with the utmost seriousness.”
“This issue has only just come to light,” says the statement, “and the Bank did not know about it when the contract was signed.” The Bank says that it’s supplier has been told to fix things, but failed to say whether or not the tallow can be removed from the manufacturing process.
Meanwhile, up in Scotland, the three banks that make plastic banknotes have confirmed that they use no “known” animal products in their manufacture.
This isn’t the first time that a big company has been caught out adding meat to what you would reasonably expect to be meat-free. Back in 2001, McDonalds got busted for using beef fat to part-fry its fries at the factory, before sending them out to restaurants, where they would be prepared by frying in vegetable oil. “The fast-food chain had maintained for more than a decade that only vegetable oil was used in the hope of appealing to vegetarians and religious groups who do not eat beef products,” said the Telegraph at the time. As you can imagine, those vegetarians and religious groups weren’t happy. McDonald’s official apology “triggered a violent protest by Hindus in India,” and a $100 million lawsuit.
The likelihood of the BoE waiting this out seems low. Non-vegan banknotes are exactly the kind of thing that would enjoy a long life in the urban myths and legends department, even before Facebook and Twitter, so it will need to be fixed. Perhaps they could ask the Scottish banks for some advice.