As It Happens

Vegans decry Canadian 'corpse cash' that contains traces of animal fat

British vegan Steffi Rox tells us that her country's new bills are made with tiny bits of beef tallow. The Bank of Canada says the pound sterling may not be the only cash with cow.
( Martin Hunter/Getty Images/Bank of Canada)

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It wasn't an easy transition but most Canadians are finally getting used to their new plastic-based money.

But what no one realized until now is that those polymer bills are also made with trace amounts of animal fat.

It started on Monday, when the Bank of England admitted that its new five pound notes contain tallow — which is derived from beef fat. That news prompted As It Happens to ask the Bank of Canada about our polymer bills. Sure enough, Canadian bills "may" also contain the animal product.

"I can't believe that you've got the same issue as we do!" Steffi Rox tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "It sounds like it may be a worldwide thing."

Rox is a British vegan who first tweeted about the issue. She spoke with Carol about the new currency she calls "corpse cash." Here is part of their conversation.

Carol Off: Steffi, tell us why you object to the polymer bills being made with tallow?

Steffi Rox: As a vegan, we go against anything that contains unnecessary animal products. Certainly finding out that tallow is in our new bank notes is really upsetting for us. Obviously, most things with animal products we can avoid quite easily. Bank notes are slightly harder to avoid. They are an everyday thing that we need in our lives.

CO: What is tallow? What part of an animal is it made from?

SR: It's animal fat. It can come from pigs but more often it's from cows.
Polymer bank notes are shown during a news conference at the Bank of Canada. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

CO: The Bank of Canada said that only one per cent of the additives or substances of the bills is tallow — a very small amount. Is that really a problem?

SR: Yes. I think for me, it's not the amount. It's just the fact that it's there. In some ways, the fact that it's such a miniscule amount makes it a little bit worse. It's not an essential ingredient. If it's so small, why did you have to use that ingredient? I've since found out there are other ingredients that could do the same thing but they're slightly more expensive from what I've read.
Bank of England Governor Mark Carney dips a new plastic £5 note into a tray of food at Whitecross Street market in London, Sept. 13, 2016. (Stefan Wermuth/AP)

CO: Do you know what purpose the tallow plays in the mix of the bills?

SR: I believe, from what I've read, it's anti-static for the notes. So something which I think is really not that essential.
CO: Now give us a sense of the reaction there has been since you revealed this quality of the polymer bills — since you put it out on Twitter in the UK.

SR: It's been absolutely crazy. I had no idea that people were going to actually pay attention to my tweet. But people picked up on it because it's the first public mention of it. So it's completely overwhelmed me and taken Twitter by storm. I've been getting so many people contacting me. Some people think it's silly, you know, "Why would vegans care? Why would anyone care what vegans think?"

SR: A petition has been started and in two days there's been over 100,000 signatures against this ingredient in the notes. Why is there little bits of dead animal in our money? We just don't want it if it can be avoided. There's a lot of people who are very upset by it. It's big news here. It's in every national newspaper at the moment — the story of our "corpse cash" as I call it. There's religious groups that aren't happy about it as well. I think part of it is that nobody was told about it in advance. It's just come out by accident. So people think they were a little bit deceived as well.
Map of currencies around the world that use animal products. (CBC/Source: Gizmodo)

CO: Many products have traces, everything from marshmallows to cell phones, have maybe a bit of animal product in it. Now, there's nothing more ubiquitous than your currency, so how do you avoid that?

SR: There's usually an alternative. But there are things that are much harder to avoid. I mean, I need a car to get to work. I try to use the most vegan car I can. I don't have leather interior and I use vegan tires. But there are still components in the car which aren't vegan and there's nothing I can do about that.
Picture taken of a cow on April 14, 2011, in a field in Plessix-Balisson, western France. AFP PHOTO DAMIEN MEYER (Photo credit should read DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images) (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images/CP/Bank of Canada)

SR: As vegans we are pretty good at researching things and avoiding them where possible. There's always something that comes out and surprises you. But this is a problem. At the moment, it's not too hard. Only our five pound note is this polymer note. But next year, they are going to be bringing out our ten and twenty pound notes made of the same material so that's when it becomes really hard. We are hoping that the bank will take a step back and essentially take a look at changing this ingredient in them. Whether they will, whether it's too late, whether they care enough about what we say, is yet to be seen. They've not made any statement regarding it since responding to my tweet.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Steffi Rox.

According to reports, Scottish banks say their polymer notes are vegan friendly. As for the Bank of Canada it isn't planning on making any changes soon. As It Happens received this statement from Josianne Ménard: "The Bank has actively followed up with Innovia, who are investigating the matter further, and have committed to keep the Bank informed as to their next steps."


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