Given all the craziness that was going at the time you might not have noticed when, late last year, the Bank of England released the new polymer £5 banknotes. Or maybe you only use credit cards or, like me, you only had a couple of coins left in your wallet the night before Christmas anyway. Whatever the reason, you might like to know that the new fivers have sparked some serious controversy and as a result might be taken out of circulation. Despite their crisp, glossy and durable exterior, it’s what’s inside that truly counts.
The Bank of England finally confessed in November that the new notes do indeed contain traces of tallow, beef tallow to be exact (hence that awful pun in the title of this article). And whilst most people seem indifferent to (or are simply unaware of) this fact, it nevertheless constitutes a big problem for many Vegetarians and Vegans around the country, for obvious reasons. But even more interesting is the fact that these notes pose a rare difficulty for some religious groups. Hindus, for example, consider the cow to be a sacred creature, and so the literal harvesting of its insides for money isn’t something that a lot of them can overlook.
Since the news of the ‘blood money’ broke, there has been a range of reactions, from silently abstaining from touching the notes to online petitions and even banning others from using them. A well-known vegetarian restaurant in Cambridge, Rainbow café, gained mixed reviews when it decided not to allow its customers to pay using the plastic £5 note. And whilst many of its loyal customers saw this as a reasonable response, others thought it was simply ridiculous- ‘What if a fiver is all I have? What happens then? Or do I need to have planned in advance anytime I want an impromptu snack’. Even bigger than this one café is the online petition requesting that the Bank of England ‘Remove Tallow from bank notes’. This petition currently has over 130,000 signatures and was officially delivered to the Bank on 6th December 2016. Since then, the Bank has tweeted that it is taking the issue very seriously and the online petition continues to gain signatures.
Seeing as I’m not Hindu and I have no interest in becoming a vegetarian the only way I can relate to this issue is the fact that my country started using polymer notes long before the UK did, and quite frankly no one had a problem with it. These ‘Plastics’ are believed to have originated in Australia in the 80s and are now being used in Canada, Vietnam, Nigeria and a variety of other nations, because of their many advantages. You’ll never have to worry about accidently ripping a note, or forgetting money in pocket of your skinny jeans the day before laundry day, ever again. An alternative would be to use vegetable-based tallow from coconut or palm oil, but this is more expensive than animal-based tallow and so probably isn’t going to be high up on the government’s list of alternatives. Either way, this polymer money has been referred to as the future of modern currency. Then again, if this future involves the continuance of animal cruelty is it really worth it? Possibly.