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Warning to vegetarians: new five pound note contains animal fats

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by November 29, 2016 General

The Bank of England in September unveiled an innovative five pound note made of thin, flexible plastic. The idea, the bank said, was to introduce a longer-lasting, waterproof currency that would be difficult to counterfeit.

But, it turns out, the bill bearing Sir Winston Churchill’s image also contains trace amounts of a substance that is proving to be highly controversial: animal fat.

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The Bank of England confirmed via Twitter on Monday that its 5-pound notes contain “a trace of tallow,” an animal fat product commonly used as an industrial lubricant and sometimes found in candles, soaps and other household items.

“There is a trace of tallow in the polymer pellets used in the base substrate of the polymer 5-pound notes,” the bank Tweeted on Monday.

The backlash was immediate: “How sick, unnecessary & prehistoric,” wrote one user.

“Not cool at all,” added another. “I go to a lot of trouble to avoid animal products. Going to start refusing them.”

In the case of the polymer notes, small beads of tallow are likely used to help the currency feed smoothly through machines, to ensure that it doesn’t jam or get stuck, said Alan Sentman, a chemist and lab manager at Polymer Solutions, a testing lab in the US.

But, he added, tallow isn’t exclusive to animal fat. It can also be derived from vegetable oils, cocoa butter and other non-animal sources.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney poses with a new polymer five pound note. Bank of England governor Mark Carney poses with a new polymer five pound note. Photo: WPA Pool

“They absolutely could move to a pure vegetable alternative — there’s no reason that wouldn’t work,” Sentman said. “It’s just a little bit cheaper to do with animal fat.”

A petition on the site Change.org calling on the bank to cease the use of animal products in its currency had more than 11,600 signatures as of Tuesday morning in the US.

PETA in Australia protesting the treatment of pigs. PETA in Australia protesting the treatment of pigs. Photo: Supplied

“When you consider that beef tallow is a co-product of a cruel and violent industry that kills millions of cows every year and that is one of the largest producers of greenhouse-gas emissions in the world, the decision to use animal fat in the new British 5-pound note truly doesn’t make sense,” a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in an email.

The Bank of England, which has already printed 440 million new 5-pound notes, has not announced plans to change the make-up of its bills. The bank is starting to phase out its use of cotton paper in currency. It says it plans to begin issuing plastic 10-pound notes next summer, and 20-pound notes by 2020.

A collection of British five pound banknotes sit in this arranged photograph in London, UK. A collection of British five pound banknotes sit in this arranged photograph in London, UK. Photo: Miles Willis

Australia was the first to introduce polymer currency, in 1988. A number of countries, including Canada, Singapore, Chile and Nepal have followed suit.

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