There's been a stampede of news coverage lately about the new 5 pound note in the United Kingdom.
This time it's not the design on the film-based fiver that's getting attention, but rather the materials in it.
It seems that some vegetarians, vegans and the media has just discovered that beef tallow is used in very, very small amounts as an additive in the plastic.
Innovia Security opened a film plant in Wigton, England, earlier this year as it ramped up production of the polymer substrate for the Bank of England. The 5 pound note was introduced in September, with collectors vying to nab a bill with serial numbers denoting it as among the first.
The Bank of England, like other banks which have moved to plastic-based notes, has cited increased security and durability with the new money. Then in late November, someone found out that tallow is used as a lubricant additive in some plastics. The bank admitted that tallow was a product in its notes.
And once social media got involved, the news quickly steamrolled across the internet, even popping up in regions that don't use polymer film in bills.
Some religious groups, among them Hindu and Sikh temples, asked parishioners to avoid leaving the new bill in donations. Vegetarian restaurant owners said they wouldn't accept them, but would only deal in larger bills. (Although new versions of a 10 and 20 pound note on their way in the coming years use the same polymer substrate.)
A U.K. resident launched a petition on Change.org stating: “The new £5 notes contain animal fat in the form of tallow. This is unacceptable to millions of vegans, vegetarians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others in the U.K. We demand that you cease to use animal products in the production of currency that we have to use.”
As of Nov. 30, it had 100,000 signatures. (Although the petition would carry little actual political weight to change things.)
No word on whether any of those people protesting on social media or signing in electronically to add their name to the petition checked if there were any tallow additives used in their phones or wires or cables or batteries on their electronic devices.
This isn't the first time the use of beef tallow has come up, of course. Every few years some element of the plastics industry has made a move to introduce vegetarian-friendly additives and resins. No doubt that will happen again.
In fact the BBC posted a news alert on Nov. 30 that "the Bank of England says its supplier is working on "potential solutions" to the issue of animal fat" in the note.
And I'm pretty sure social media won't be checking the chemical structures behind their everyday products when they do. The spotlight will simply move on by then.