Even though Britain’s new £5 polymer note drew protests from Hindus, Sikhs, vegetarians and others who objected against the use of tallow, a substance derived from animal fat, the Bank of England said on Wednesday that the note would not be withdrawn.
The note evoked memories among Hindu and Sikh organisations of the 1857 uprising in India. The National Council of Hindu Temples (UK) recalled the use of tallow in cartridges that sparked the revolt, and after the note was introduced, many temples across Britain refused to accept it as an offering.
The bank said: “An extremely small amount of tallow is used in an early stage of the production process of polymer pellets, which are then used to create the base substrate for the £5 note…(The) Bank has now concluded that it would be appropriate to keep the £5 polymer note in circulation and to issue the £10 polymer note as planned, in September.”
It added that destroying the hundreds of millions of notes already printed would put availability of cash to the public at risk. The bank could not guarantee sufficient stocks of paper notes if the polymer notes were to be destroyed.
Noting that it had spent £46 million to print the £5 polymer notes, the bank said reprinting them on a new substrate would mean incurring these costs again. It would also require a further £50,000 for the secure destruction of the existing stock.
“Given the public interest in banknotes, and the complex issues involved, the Bank is seeking further opinions on the use of animal-derived products and plant-based alternatives before making any decisions on the polymer used in future production runs of £5 and £10 polymer notes and the new £20 polymer note,” the bank said.
A petition to ban the use of tallow in the notes attracted more than 130,000 signatures.
The polymer £5 note has been described by the bank as one that can survive a splash of Claret, a flick of cigar ash, the nip of a bulldog, and even a spin in the washing machine. It was introduced with the idea that it is cleaner, safer and stronger than the current cotton-paper generation of banknotes.
Of the four denominations - 5, 10, 20 and 50 - the polymer fiver was the first, featuring an iconic image of Winston Churchill on one side and that of Queen Elizabeth on the other.
Behind Churchill’s portrait is an illustration of the Houses of Parliament. The hands on Big Ben are set to the time on May 13, 1940 when Churchill made his inaugural speech to the House of Commons as Prime Minister.
His declaration at the time – “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” – is quoted beneath the portrait.