In late November 2016, a claim appeared that the United Kingdom’s new £5 bank notes contain beef tallow, a potential cause for concern among vegetarians and vegans who try to keep their contact with meat and meat industry byproducts to a minimum.
The Bank of England decided to switch in 2013, and introduced the new bills in September 2016. It has touted the new pound notes (which are made from long-lasting and difficult to tear plastic polymers, rather than cotton paper) as cleaner, more durable, and better for the environment — as well as being far more difficult to counterfeit than their flimsier paper counterparts.
We contacted the Bank of England to ask whether £5 bills (and the £10 and £20 notes that they will be rolling out later) contain beef tallow. A representative responded:
Thank you for your enquiry concerning the £5 polymer banknote, which has been passed to me for reply.
We can confirm that the polymer pellet from which the base substrate is made contains a trace of a substance known as tallow. Tallow is derived from animal fats (suet) and is a substance that is also widely used in the manufacture of candles and soap.
This is not the first time that the United Kingdom has implemented polymer notes, as BBC reported in 2013:
In 1999, Northern Bank of Northern Ireland issued a polymer £5 commemorative note celebrating the year 2000.
A plastic note was introduced in the Isle of Man in 1983 but was withdrawn in 1988 owing to problems with the ink.
Adopters of the notes include Canada, whose last central bank governor – Mark Carney – is now the governor of the Bank of England.
Beef tallow is indeed a trace ingredient of the polymer used for the new £5 notes in the UK. However, their appropriateness for use by vegetarians and vegans remains entirely subjective.