Vegans and vegetarians around the globe are enraged by the revelation that bank notes from countries like the U.K. and Canada contain small amounts of tallow, a rendered form of animal fat.
Horrifying, you say? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, a number of widely circulated products are commonly made with trace amounts of tallow, a reality which shows the ubitquity of the additive in today’s marketplace.
First sparked in Britain by the Bank of England’s admission that, indeed, the polymer pellets used to make its new five pound notes contain “a trace of tallow,” the issue quickly became a veritable firestorm of protest, with outraged vegans and vegetarians launching a petition to have the bank notes changed. Typically, the Twitterverse has brought forth salvos by indignant veggies along with a few notable irreverences, either advising vegetarians to just not eat their money or failing that, some good-hearted folks are volunteering to take the offending notes off people’s hands for free.
The storm has spread to Canada, too, where protest is rising over a subsequent reveal by the Bank of Canada that all of its polymer bills also have “minute” amounts of tallow. “Our supplier of polymer substrate, Innovia Security, has confirmed to us that these additives may include extremely small amounts of tallow,” said the BoC after contacting the company which provides the banknote substrate. “Polymer substrate used as a base for bank notes contains additives that help with the polymer manufacturing process, similar to many commercially available plastics,” says the BoC.
In fact, the issue is worldwide, as Innovia Security lists on its website 24 countries that currently use its tallow-containing polymer, including Australia, New Zealand, Romania and Chile.
One notable exclusion is Scotland, where the Royal Bank of Scotland has confirmed that there are “no known animal products” in its plastic banknotes.
The issue has a serious side, of course, not just for strong adherents to vegetarianism and veganism but for those religious groups such as Hindus who consider cows to be sacred (tallow is typically produced from beef, sheep or pork fat). On the animal content in Canadian bills, Vinod Sharma of the United Hindu Congress of Canada stated to the National Post that “it’s not something we appreciate.”
The problem is quite widespread, as tallow, which adds a non-stick property to many plastics, can be found in literally thousands of everyday products, from pill capsules to plastic bags, cosmetics to crayons. Another animal fat-derived substance, glycerin (which can be plant-based, as well) is found in latexes and products like toothpastes and skin products.
Simply put, the value is in the fat. Whether plant or animal derived, fat-based triglycerides like tallow and glycerin contribute a range of novel properties to products and materials, adding sweetness and flavour to foods and beverages and serving as lubricants and non-stick coatings for a wide range of uses. New Zealand animal rights organization SAFE states that the issue is “a good example of how animal products can pop up in places we don’t expect them to.”