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Bank of England £5 note

The Bank will launch a public consultation on 30 March (Pic: Bank of England)

16/02/2017

Bank to assess animal fat note alternatives

Bank of England £5 notes will not be recalled

Helen Tunnicliffe

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THE Bank of England will not withdraw its new £5 polymer banknotes, after traces of animal fat were discovered in them, but has instructed suppliers to seek alternative production ingredients.

In November last year, it emerged that trace amounts of tallow, from cow and sheep fat, were used in an early part of the production process of the polymer banknotes, prompting calls for the notes to be scrapped, from some religious and vegetarian/vegan groups opposed to the harm of animals. Following the revelation, the Bank of England carried out an investigation, which has now been completed.

As well as retaining existing £5 notes, the Bank says that it will go ahead with the launch of the new polymer £10 as planned in September 2017. The Bank has already printed 275m new £10 notes, costing £24m (US$30m), while £46m has been spent printing 590m £5 notes, which were launched in September 2016. Destroying and reprinting all the notes would be expensive, and in the absence, at present, of alternative technology, they would need to be reprinted on paper. The Bank decided to switch to polymer notes to make them harder to forge, and a return to paper notes would delay the introduction of polymer £10 and £20 notes, which account for 90% of forgeries. In addition, as the new paper notes would need to be different from the old ones, it would cause problems for cash handling machines, and there may be supply difficulties, all of which the Bank says “would have potentially significant public detriment”.

The Bank concedes that there is “public interest” in the banknotes and as such has asked suppliers to look at the possibility of using vegetable-derived fats such as palm or coconut oil instead of tallow. It will launch a public consultation on 30 March about the content of the polymer used and release its findings in the middle of the year. The Bank will also delay signing contracts for the £20 note, due to be launched by 2020, until it has decided on the correct course of action.

Polymer banknotes were developed by IChemE Fellow and emeritus professor at the University of Melbourne David Solomon. He was made a Companion of the Order Australia (AC), by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

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