The Bank of England has decided not to withdraw plastic £5 banknotes from circulation, despite protests from vegans, animal rights activists and religious groups because the notes contain traces of animal fat.
The Bank is also pushing ahead with production of the new £10 polymer note featuring Jane Austen, which is to be issued in September. It has spent £70m on making the two plastic banknotes so far.
It said: “Withdrawing £5 polymer banknotes and stopping production of £10 polymer banknotes would have significant implications for the Bank’s anti-counterfeiting strategy and threaten continuity of supply of banknotes to the public. It would carry environmental risks and impose significant financial costs on the Bank, and thereby the taxpayer, and on the cash industry.”
A row broke out about the new plastic £5 banknotes last November, after it emerged that they contained tallow, an animal byproduct of beef or mutton fat. A petition urging the Bank to stop using the substance in its banknotes attracted nearly 135,000 signatures. It said the use of animal fat was “unacceptable to millions of vegans, vegetarians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others in the UK”.
Satish K Sharma, general secretary of the National Council of Hindu Temples, said he was surprised that the Bank decided to push ahead with production of the £10 note after his meeting with the chief cashier, Victoria Cleland, in January. He described it as a “major blow” – with temples, as charities, relying on financial donations.
Sharma branded the new banknotes a “means of exchange which is contrary to the principle of non-violence”. He explained that while people could choose not to eat meat, a currency made with animal fat left no choice. “It’s being imposed. It’s a loss of a religious and moral and ethical freedom.” He said the council would be seeking legal advice.
The Bank said it had carefully considered other options, such as destroying, reprinting and delaying the issue of the £10 note, but concluded it would be too costly. It is looking at switching to an alternative substance, such as palm oil or coconut oil, for the planned £20 polymer note and the next batch of £5 notes, but the switch would come too late for the new plastic tenner.