Vegetarians do not like the new £5 notes one bit. They hate them, in fact. Why? Because on Monday, the Bank of England confirmed via Twitter that the polymer the notes are made of contains "traces" of tallow – a substance made from animal fat that's often used in the production of candles and soaps.
The reaction to this was, of course, an e-petition. Stating that the use of animal products in money is unacceptable to "millions of vegans, vegetarians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others in the UK", the petition calls for the Bank of England to cease the use of tallow in money production.
That petition has nearly 100,000 signatures as of today, with a number of Twitter users threatening to boycott the notes, as if that will make the slightest bit of difference. Some people care a bit less, with Simon Round – a spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews – telling the BBC that "the five pound notes wouldn't cause any problem to Jews unless they try to eat them".
So all of this is going on and people from all sides are chucking their oars in – but no one in this theatre of opinion has yet asked the most important question: how many animals are actually going to be sacrificed in the name of The Bank of England to make all these new fivers?
I did all of the necessary googling, calling of butchers, tracking down of elusive polymer scientists and using of online calculators to find out.
Tallow is rendered cow or mutton fat, but for the sake of argument let's go with cows here.
How much do cows weigh? Between 1,100kg for a male (bull) and 720kg for a female. So, on average, a cow weighs 910kg.
The body fat content of an average cow is 25 percent. Therefore, the amount of fat in an average cow's body is 227.5kg.
How many kilograms of this fat is contained in offcuts you could use to make tallow? About 40kg, according to a man at the James Elliott butcher in Islington.
How much tallow is used in one note, according to the Bank of England? "A trace", which chemically means less than 100 parts per million, or 0.01 percent. A polymer consultant I called confirmed that the tallow present in a given polymer would be a fraction of a single percentage.
New £5 notes weigh 0.7g, therefore there is roughly 0.00007 g of tallow present in one £5 note.
How many fivers are in circulation now, and therefore will be around by May of 2017, when all the old paper ones have been phased out? 329 million notes.
To work out how much tallow will be used in total in all of these fivers, we need to multiply 0.00007g by 329 million, which gives us 23,030g, or 23kg.
And if you get about 40kg of tallow-worthy fat from the average cow, how many cows would you need to make every single £5 note in circulation?
JUST OVER HALF OF ONE COW
So while it's estimated that 2.6 million cattle are slaughtered each year for human consumption in the UK, there are nearly 100,000 signatures so far on a petition to save just one cow from being ritualistically murdered and fed into Britain's Royal Mint machines.
Here are some e-petitions that revolve around the same theme – the value of animal life – that currently have less signatures at the time of writing:
– Shutting down the UK's domestic ivory trade has 71,416 signatures.
– Increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty charges has 51,473 signatures.
– Ending the badger cull has 63,461 signatures.
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