Why there’s beef tallow in our money and vice versa
This week a lot of people around the world discovered that there was meat in their money.
On Monday, November 28, the Bank of England admitted that there were traces of beef tallow (rendered animal fat) in the new British £5 note. Later in the day the Bank of Canada confirmed that tallow was likewise present in Canadian polymer banknotes.
By the way, it was only after answering the inquiries of serious Canadian media outlets like the National Post and the CBC that Canada’s chief money maker got around to answering the email inquiry that this Canadian blogger sent it on November 27:
“In response to your email inquiry, Canada’s polymer bank notes have considerable benefits—they are more secure, durable, cost-effective than paper bank notes. Safer, cheaper and greener, Canadians use them with confidence. Polymer substrate used as a base for bank notes contains additives that help with the polymer manufacturing process, similar to many commercially available plastics. Our supplier of polymer substrate, Innovia Security, has confirmed to us that these additives may include extremely small amounts of tallow. 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.”
The Bank of Canada’s email reply to CBC News, which was reproduced on As It Happens’ Twitter account, was more substantive and to the point:
It’s debatable whether “substantially less than 1% of the total weight of the substrate” equals “miniscule” but the real question was why beef tallow was an ingredient in plastic money at all.
Innovia Films (as the company refers to itself), provides polymer for the banknotes of 24 countries, including Canada and its spokesperson explained on Monday that it adds beef tallow to give its Guardian banknote polymer better anti-static qualities.
But still I wondered, why beef tallow?
From the slaughterhouse to your house
Beef tallow, it turns out, has been used for decades as an anti-static ingredient in a wide range of products, including fabric softener liquids and dryer sheets.
Tallow has also long been a common ingredient in sheet plastics—including plastic bags (and plastic money)—to both reduce static cling and to generally lower surface tension or interfacial tension—all in order to make the plastic slide easier.
Additionally, beef tallow has been commonly used in the manufacture of candles, crayons, soaps, detergents and glues, not to mention inks, paints, wax paper, rubber, lubricants, margarine, lipsticks, shaving creams and other cosmetics.
In almost all instances however—certainly in the case of anti-static additives—there are vegetable oil alternatives that perform equally as well as rendered animal fats.
Until recently, virtually all fabric softeners used an animal fat-based chemical, such as dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride, to reduce static cling—as recently as 2008, in the case if Downy and 2010 in the case of Bounce.
As of 2016 however, Downy dryer sheets and Bounce dryer sheets (both Proctor & Gamble products) use the vegetable oil-based chemical dipalmethyl hydroxyethylammoinum methosulfate as an anti-static and softener agent. But both products also list a “fatty acid” softener agent, which could be either animal or plant-based.
It has been impossible for me to find proper ingredient lists for the popular fabric softeners made by either Purex or Snuggle, but Snuggle Ultra Blue Sparkle Fabric Softener appears to contain the animal product lactic acid, according to a U.S. government household product database of hazardous chemicals.
Unfortunately, the Internet, which offers almost the only means for finding ingredients in non-food items, is neither comprehensive, completely up-to-date nor completely accurate.
Imagine how difficult it is for vegans and others trying to live a life free of animal-based products.
Non-food products are not required to list all (or often any) of their ingredients and those food products that do list ingredients, can hide almost anything behind chemical names. That fact alone makes ethical product choosing difficult. Throw in the way that food additives are commonly used in non-food products and vice versa and veganism would seem to be damn near impossible.
You can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!
Speaking of beef tallow and Proctor & Gamble, and the co-mingling of food and non-food products, allow me to digress for a moment and talk about the creation of Crisco vegetable shortening.
In the mid 1800s two American business partners in Cincinnati, Ohio, candle maker William Proctor and his brother-in-law, soap-maker James Gamble, got around a meat packing industry monopoly on the lard and tallow needed to make candles and soap by developing a cheap vegetable substitute. Together with a chemist they patented a process to solidify liquid cottonseed oil—a not-entirely digestible waste-byproduct of cottonseed processing—by adding hydrogen atoms, or “hydrogenating” it.
The advent of the electric light bulb extinguished most of the profit potential of candle-making so Proctor & Gamble repackaging their hydrogenated vegetable oil candle and soap base as (of all things) an edible food product. Thus, in 1912, Crisco vegetable oil shortening was introduced as an alternative to rendered animal fat such as lard (pig fat).
The success of Crisco and the way, for instance, that it transformed the cooking habits of kosher Jewish-American households—which hitherto had not been able to serve both a dairy item together with anything cooked using a meat product like lard. All that was the result, not of careful product design to fill an unmet need, but of pure adulterated marketing.
Waste products are just wasted opportunities for profit
Ultimately beef tallow is an ingredient in money for the same reason that cake recipes call for vegetable shortening—because tallow is a byproduct of the meat packing industry and profitable uses must be found for it.
This “waste not, want not” attitude of such resource industries toward their waste products is arguably what gave birth to the modern science of organic chemistry.
For instance, the artificial colour dye industry sprang out of investigations into using waste coal tar produced by the manufacture of the coal gas used in municipal lighting systems in the mid- to late-1800s. And many of the refined hydrocarbon products that we can’t live without today, such as lubricants and gasoline, started out as waste products (of the refining of petroleum) in search of a marketable uses.
There’s some irony in the idea that when Innovia Films finally gets around to replacing the beef tallow in its Guardian banknote polymer, it will most likely substitute a palm oil deriviative for the tallow that is not entirely unlike Crisco. Click the images to enlarge them.