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For Those Upset By The New £5 Notes

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It was brought to my attention today that there are trace amounts of animal fat (tallow) in the new £5 notes that are steadily being filtered into our currency here in the UK. In a bizarre coalition of sorts, both vegans, and a whole array of non-vegans alike (vegetarians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, etc), are upset by this development, so much so that at the time of writing this piece, a petition created on change.org by a chap named Doug Maw is almost at 20,000 signatures.

Is the use of tallow in the new £5 notes morally problematic? Of course it is. But there are two problems with these subsequent developments that require our attention. The first is that, taking an issue like this and shaping it into an advocacy effort is detrimental to the pursuit of a societal recognition of fundamental animal rights. Consider the change.org petition, for example. Not only is it telling people that all they have to do to help animals is fill out a digital form, it’s saying that there is something worse about this particular form of animal use. So much so that vegans are willing to garner the support of non-vegans (who engage in direct animal exploitation every day) in an effort to supposedly combat a form of animal use that, for whatever reason, is being portrayed as different to the animal use that every non-vegan engages in. Let me tell you folks, it ain’t any different. Yet this petition, this outcry on twitter from vegans (and non-vegan “animal people” alike), is telling every non-vegan to ignore the direct exploitation they engage in every day, and to just be upset about these £5 notes instead. It’s doing nothing but drawing arbitrary lines between certain animal uses, and as always, the animals pay the price via not having their fundamental interests recognised through veganism.

The second problem is that, it makes no sense for people to be upset about this, whilst not getting upset about every other animal byproduct that each of us has no choice but to come into contact with every day. Computers, phones, tablets, pavements, roads, cars, almost every bit of plastic in our household goods; all of it has trace amounts of animal products in. Why? Because we live in a society where slaughterhouse byproducts are cheap and readily available. Why? Because we demand animal products to be produced when we are not vegan. We do not change this by petitioning £5 notes. We do not change this by skipping over every road and hiding in our neighbours trees. We change this by educating people to go vegan, which then reduces the demand for animal products. If the 20 odd thousand people who have signed that petition were actually all vegan, took animal interests seriously, and instead used their energy to engage in creative abolitionist education, we would be well on the road to recognising fundamental animal interests now.

As it stands, we’re merely telling the non-vegan public that one form of animal use is worse than another, whilst simultaneously patting non-vegans on the back for signing a petition against a form of animal use that is no different to what they already engage in themselves. Vegans getting upset about this issue and signing this petition neglect to understand that it’s these sorts of petitions that lead people to make distinctions over certain animal uses in the first place. Only by decreasing the demand for animal products through veganism and educating others to be vegan will these other animal uses (money, roads, plastics. etc.) of which we have no control, become obsolete and change all by themselves anyway.

Photo from The Guardian

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  • Right on the one Ben, so to speak. superb article x

  • Great article. Canadian currency contains small amounts of tallow, as does the paper currency of 24 other nations. It’s regrettable, but like you say, we live in a non-vegan world. I think we should all be avoiding animal products as much as possible, but since biodiesel, asphalt and even jet fuel contain small amounts of animal products, there’s a point where we need to focus on the real problem, which is our use of animals in the first place. Instead of despairing about things we can’t do much about (and all landfills in the world would overflow in four years without the rendering industry), we need to address animal consumption and use first, and educating others about why they should go vegan.

  • Jerry Markz

    Can we not use these spaces where people are upset and signing petitions to clearly advocate for a clear vegan message?

    I agree that focusing on this issue sends the wrong messsge, but I think these spaces are where a clear vegan message is potentially more ready to take root with people.

  • why_me

    The vegan society definition includes to avoid animal exploitation as as as practical and possible. The Bank of England as a client did not enquiers about the process so did not take these steps, it needed someone else to ask. When an established vegan is living as ethically as they can, the only way to extend their definition of – practical and possible – is to enquiers about materials. I do this frequently to many suppliers and I share the feedback. Art material suppliers for instance are changing processes since being made aware of demand. Wine sellers now label vegan wines. All this is market and press driven. My only question to Doug would be – is your dog a plant fed rescue dog ? Mine is. And I do vegan outreach, and petition. And with my background engagement, I assess the GBP 5 initiative as effective activism.

  • Steffi Rox

    Dear Ben,
    My name is Steffi. It was my tweet to the Bank of England and their response to it that was picked up on by the press regarding the issue of tallow in £5 notes.
    Naturally I had no idea one tweet would cause such a media storm, nor did I expect to find myself spending 2 days of my maternity leave doing back to back newspaper, tv & radio interviews as far reaching as Canada on the subject and I know Doug who started the petition, now at 119,000 signatures, found himself in the same position.
    I have always preferred direct action over things like e-petitions however I recognise they have found their place in a world where animal activism has to a certain extent died off in recent years. I do not agree that the petition indicates something worse about this form of animal use, it is simply highlighting a very current issue while we still have a window of opportunity to make our voices known and request that tallow is not used in the planned rollout of higher denomination notes before it is too late.
    Single issue campaigns will always attract their critics however I’m unsure how those vegans who do support them would ever make an impact without engaging with the greater population- the non vegans. Let’s not forget, most vegans were non vegan at some point and for many it will have been one issue or person reaching out to them that introduced them to veganism in the first place. I do believe that excluding non vegans from vegan issues serves no benefit for the animals.
    No one is telling non vegans to ignore their everyday actions. What the press has done is highlight many of the unexpected items containing animal products as this question has arose in nearly every interview. More importantly it has opened up discussion to the worlds media regarding veganism.
    Like anything unplanned this campaign has not been without flaws. To even call it a campaign seems too much as no preparation or planning was involved, just a Spotlight on the issue and a few untrained people doing our trying to represent and promote veganism as best we can. The alternative would have been to decline interviews and leave uneducated journalists to represent the subject which didn’t bode well.
    Ultimately to get veganism promoted on worldwide media, because the interviews have been as much about veganism as they have the £5 notes, is a massive, albeit accidental, achievement and to get 119,000 in 3 days stating they are against the use of one animal byproduct sends out a clear message and should not be seen as a negative, especially when this is something some of the biggest charities have never achieved.
    When you find a better way to get more people going vegan please call me as I’d love to join you in your efforts.
    We might not be able to make the world perfect, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make it better.

    Steffi x

  • Dave Duckshoot

    Refusing the £5 note in shops and banks is an opportunity to get the vegan message out there. Stop being so negative, if you are OK with these £5 notes fine, but ‘m not and I will use it to spread the message about cruelty to animals. The fewer places animal agriculture can sell their byproducts the sooner the industry is a memory.

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