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Vegetarians Object To Traces Of Beef Tallow In U.K. Currency

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Switching gears now - when you go to the bank or the ATM and you get some crisp new bills, it's nice, right? The people of the United Kingdom have been enjoying some fresh notes for a couple of months now since the Bank of England issued a newly designed 5-pound bill. The new fiver, which is worth about 6 bucks U.S. at the moment, is made out of a polymer, a compound, not paper. It's meant to last more than twice as long as a paper bill. It stays cleaner and could survive, say, a trip through the washing machine without falling apart.

LYNNE ELLIOT: The new 5-pound note is very different to the old one. It's kind of plasticky (ph) and bendy, and it has a little see-through window in it.

MARTIN: That's Lynne Elliot. She's the director of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom. And at first, like many Brits, she was a fan.

ELLIOT: Loved the design, much more practical, nice to use, feels good. I had no idea it had tallow in it.

MARTIN: Did you catch that? The new bill has tallow, a rendered byproduct of animal fat, which has been used for centuries to make soaps, candles and a host of other things. The Bank of England revealed in a tweet this week the polymer in the new 5-pound note contains trace amounts of beef tallow.

ELLIOT: When it first happened, people were very shocked about it and very surprised.

MARTIN: The revelation has caused an outcry from vegetarians, vegans, Hindus, Sikhs and other people who abstain from using beef or other animal products for reasons of personal ethics or religious commitment. A petition calling on the Bank of England to replace the note has already collected more than 120,000 signatures. Now, some have pushed back saying that there is only a tiny amount of tallow involved. But as Lynne Elliot puts it...

ELLIOT: I think the issue for most people is that they go to some effort to live their life in such a way as they don't contribute to animals being harmed for human use. And so it's not so much about the amount, it's about the principles behind it. And it's about wanting to make sure that they're not part of the demand for slaughter or byproducts of slaughter.

MARTIN: Elliot says she is hopeful that the Bank of England will work quickly to find a tallow-free formula for their fivers. The bank released a statement saying it is treating the concerns with the utmost seriousness. In the meantime...

ELLIOT: I've been running a little experiment since I read about it to see how easy it is to do without it, and it's not easy at all.

MARTIN: It turns out that the 5-pound note, like its American cousin, is a pretty common denomination.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MONEY")

PINK FLOYD: (Singing) Money, get away. Get a good job with more pay and you're O.K. Money, it's a gas. Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash. New car, caviar, four-star daydream, think I'll buy me... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.