YOU TOUCH DEAD COWS AND YOU LIKE IT

“Cow could you do this to me?”

September 2016: The Bank of England (BoE) released the new polymer five pound notes, which it claims are cleaner, more durable and more difficult to counterfeit than the previous paper notes.

November 2016: The BoE released a public statement confirming the presence of tallow, a substance derived from animal fat.

This has been greeted with outrage from vegans, vegetarians and members of several religious groups who are forced to use the banknotes that violate their core beliefs. Can we ethically justify using such materials in essential items like banknotes?  Do we as engineers have a responsibility to ensure that the products we develop are ethically sound?

For the good of the herd

The new £5 polymer notes contain a number of benefits when compared to the old notes. They reduce the impact on the environment as well as the benefit of saving money. Furthermore, according to the inventor David Solomon, they are harder to forge, meaning that crime rates involving counterfeit notes will reduce. Despite the advantages, the recent revelation of the new notes containing tallow has angered multiple sections of society.

While some people are angry and upset, it can be argued from a utilitarian viewpoint that the use of tallow in the new fiver is justified. Switching to an animal friendly alternative would demand a huge change in production processes for the manufacturers. Consequently, changes incurring expensive costs could place a significant financial burden on the stakeholders – the Bank of England, taxpayers and the cash handling industry. Additionally, only a minority group (135,000) within the overall population have signed a petition to abort it, showing that most people are happy with the new note. The idea behind utilitarianism is that we should aim for the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. The new fiver is providing many benefits to the vast majority of the population. So just because some people are upset about it, does that mean we should cause a massive negative impact to stakeholders, and most importantly, you the taxpayer?

While some people are angry and upset, it can be argued from a utilitarian viewpoint that the use of tallow in the new fiver is justified.

A variant on the utilitarian viewpoint is the egoistic theory. The egoistic theory, as the name suggests, uses utilitarian logic in order to provide the greatest amount of good for oneself. The theory goes; by first attaining your own happiness will result in a positive knock-on effect to the rest of society. Looking at this issue through snobbish, top of the range, Louis Vuitton, egoistical glasses, one can say that the Bank of England and the manufacturers should look out for themselves first, and protect their reputations and financial interests by not changing the notes and persisting with the current beef flavoured ones.

The Bank of England has spent £46m on the new fivers. They say that reprinting the notes on a different, animal friendly material would incur the same costs again. Furthermore, the vegetarian alternatives are more expensive, and so this extra cost, along with the cost of removing the old notes, would greatly hinder the bank’s operations. As the bank is taxpayer funded, the cost would fall to you – essentially, by looking out for itself, the Bank of England is actually looking out for you too…

 

It’s Udderly Unacceptable

Tallow is used in the production of a wide variety of commonly used products, and while it is possible to manufacture tallow from plant based sources such as palm oil and coconut oil, it is commonly extracted from waste animal fat due to its low cost, ready availability and high concentration of Stearic Acid.

For most household products there are animal free alternatives available; this is simply not the case with the new £5 note. By incorporating animal fat into the new banknotes, the Bank of England and the manufacturing company Innovia Films have failed to acknowledge the wishes of a significant proportion of the population and forced them to use products that they find morally unacceptable.

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Tough to swallow – the new fivers have caused outrage due to the presence of tallow

Care ethics is a cute and fluffy ethical practice; it states that moral decisions can be made by ensuring that positive relationships between individuals are maintained. This is done by exerting due care for other’s wishes by observing a situation from their perspective. It is clear that this methodology has not been applied by the manufacturers in this situation, demonstrated rather crassly by comments made by Professor David Solomon stating that the concerns raised about the new notes were “absolutely stupid”.

“For most household products there are animal free alternatives available; this is simply not the case with the new £5 note”

Another aspect of care ethics places an emphasis on observing the relative vulnerabilities and dependencies of stakeholders with respect to one another, and making sure that dependent stakeholder’s are “cared for”. The general public’s dependency on cash and the absence of an alternative makes them vulnerable. This deposits a moral burden on the suppliers and manufacturers to ensure that the moral codes of all of the potential users of cash are adhered to.

“Integrity is one of the principles of public life, closely related to the principles of selflessness and objectivity. Our personal interests should never influence our decisions” – The Bank of England (Core Values)

Deontological (from deon, “obligation, duty”) ethics discusses what is ‘right’ beforehand regardless of the consequences; suggesting that the ‘right’ thing to do would be to follow your duty or moral obligation. In this case, the moral obligation of the BoE is to prevent their personal interests from influencing their decisions, and work towards the public good. Kant’s Duty ethics state that morally acceptable decisions are those which can be accepted as a general law. By using tallow in the notes, the freedom of choice of individuals is being taken away. Clearly if there was a universal law stating that it is acceptable to remove people’s right to choose, we would live in a morally corrupt society. BoE say that they “support diversity” as a part of what they do every day, so shouldn’t vegetarians also feel supported?

Group 51: Omar D’Agostino, Saba Nadeem, Rawaiz Sheikh, Benjamin Shaw

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32 thoughts on “YOU TOUCH DEAD COWS AND YOU LIKE IT

  1. I herd about this on the news, it’s such a load of bull…

    Seriously though, it’s simply minority raging ‘lefty’ groups who are looking for any excuse to milk the situation, ‘stick it to the man’ and get up in arms about nothing. Yet they all wear leather shoes, merino wool jumpers, and tame their alternative facial hair with beeswax?

    Stick with the sound minded majority and go with the best value option, as it’s to everyone’s benefit.

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    1. The issue hasn’t really been publicised nor had it been previously stated by those responsible of their intention to use an animal derived product; to then insinuate that the majority are happy and in favour is nothing short of foolishness!

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  2. The outcry from vegans ect in this situation is completely unjustified. Someone calculated that the amount of Tallow used to make ALL the fivers made is equivalent to half a bloody cow and it is extracted from a waste product! So using Tallow adds no negative impacts to animals what so ever. The people complaining about this are misinformed fools and the worst part is now the BoE is actually considering using Palm oil instead, which actually has serious environmental consequences.

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  3. With all the research that must have gone into the development of the new £5 note by the BoE, it’s a massive oversight that it did not consider that there would be objections to the use of tallow, regardless of the minute amounts used – to the extent that it’s support for “diversity” is highly suspect.
    I assume that your reference to care ethics as “cute and fluffy” is ironic because otherwise it comes across as belittling.
    Having said all that, handling of the £5 note is not totally unavoidable: those who truly find it objectionable – and actually there are people who are highly principled and don’t wear leather, use beeswax etc – can use coins instead. Yes, they would say they shouldn’t have to and coins are inconvenient but at the end of the day, it’s all just money and if you have your £5, is that bit of paper worth beefing about?

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  4. I think that as a general rule, whenever possible companies should try to accommodate to everyone’s various wants and needs as best they can. Increasingly so, vegetarian and vegan movements are gathering more support and momentum and I think companies will find it more and more difficult to ignore the ‘needs’ of this particular group. For the mean time they are, as you say ‘a minority’ and the advantages of the new five pound note outweigh their opposition, therefore is better for the ‘greater good’, however I wonder how long they will continue to be a minority.

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    1. Regardless to whether they are a minority or not, they still are a significant part of our society and to disregard them is the greater issue here. The intention and subsequent implementation to use animal waste was not publicised; negating any possible discussion or opportunity for the public to express any dislike in our so called democratic society!

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  5. A trend has already started where half a section measures on the basis of logics and half on religious aspect. So both of them cant be ignored. This debate will not end and let the mass decide the good for them. I personally support this £5.

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  6. Considering the events and economic changes the UK will have to go through in light of recent political changes, tampering with the manufacturing process of these notes is defenitely not what the UK economy needs right now. However, the fault truly falls on the Government for not notifying/consulting the people until this process was finalised and in use. Such a unique topic would have been raised during the development of this note, the choice of keeping the population in the dark until it was too late should solely fall on the Government body responsible.

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  7. Ideally choices made by large organisations would be compatible with the whole population’s beliefs, but the sheer range of beliefs people have makes that hard. Clearly a line must be drawn with some level of compromise between the beliefs of sections of the people, and ease and cost of manufacture for everyone (as the costs are passed to all the population). Why should some people pay for a product they are opposed to, and why should the majority pay a surcharge for a difference they neither care about nor can detect?

    We have to all settle on one solution in this case, and those who have the strictest criteria of not accepting the tiny amount of tallow (half a cow per all notes if the figure is to be believed) are attaching an incredibly huge monetary value (per animal) to their beliefs that they ask the population to adhere to and pay for. It’s reasonable for beliefs held by enough people to be respected if the cost to meet them is also reasonable. But in this case the cost is too much to justify removing the milligrams of tallow from banknotes.

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  8. Of course any governmental institution can never please all of the people all of the time and so with many decisions like this there is a degree of compromise. Nevertheless, it is likely they would have at least considered the opinions and implications of the population when using Tallow. Ultimately however, the BoE has clearly justified it has acted in the best interests of the economy and the greater population which is exactly what is expected of them.

    In regards to the concerns of different sections of society, are the BoE or any governmental institution for that matter required to pander to their every need? Is the government also expected to cut animal farming subsidies because some people are vegetarians? Obviously this would be ridiculous nevermind impractical. One may counter argue that it is forced upon them i.e. They have no alternative five pound note. Firstly I would retaliate there is the alternative of using electronic payments or other coins and secondly no one can expect every governmental decision that affects them will be agreeable and if we feel enough opposition we can of course air and protest our grievances via different means. On that point, the UK embraces and protects diversity and has fairly good checks and balances to ensure minority views aren’t completely ignored which is evident as the BoE is considering alternatives to Tallow.

    Lastly, the impact of using Tallow is negligible on both the cow and the people who oppose it so yes, understandably it might make some people upset, but relatively the effect is minuscule. Moreover the great majority of the country either support the BoE decision or are indifferent and so given the circumstances I think the BoE made the right choice despite the fact I don’t agree with it.

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  9. I am not a vegetarian myself, but I understand their point of view. It is a core principle of theirs which the Bank of England have violated through including Tallow in the new note, but what staggers me is the oversight throughout the whole design process by all the people involved in making the note; surely someone should have foreseen the problem with including the animal based material?

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  10. As a subscriber to a religious group (recurring subscription, it’s cheaper that way), I believe that the notion of this new banknote violating core beliefs is an overreaction.

    This recent trend of hypersensitivity by several members of society to trivial issues is as outrageous as referencing Wikipedia in a scholarly article. Similarly outrageous is the fact that the number of films the production company Innovia Films has produced is non-existent, not unlike the excrements given by the BoE in issuing this note.

    As for the ethics side of things, I Kant really disagree.

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  11. Even though they are a minority it seems as though the govt is wrong not to have consulted the public previously. Especially since further research into animal friendly material could’ve preserved the satisfaction of all stakeholders. However, now that it has happened and there are clear benefits for the new note, the govt can compromise by finding an acceptable, alternative substance that maintains the mentioned benefits and start using that in their later production without wasting the money used by reclaiming the 5 pound notes available now.

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  12. I agree with the utilitarian viewpoint in this case and the minority of people against Tallow will need to compromise for the time being. The benefits of the new note are clearly evident. However the government should focus on providing a vegy 5 pound note alternative for the future.

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  13. This is an interesting topic I had not previously given much thought to.
    I do respect that although many religious groups and vegetarian/vegans find the use of animal tallow unacceptable the money saved can be put to use in many areas that would also benefit those same groups, in ways that would directly benefit them. I do not think new notes should be printed. If anything is to be taken from this situation it is to take a more considered approach and factor in all variables before going ahead with a decision. And although I believe that new notes should not be printed despite to objection of a few groups I still this k their views and opinions should be heard and respected and should not be called ‘stupid’. What doesn’t matter to you might mean a lot to someone else and vice versa so one should always be empathetic and be sensitive to the needs of the minority, however ultimately of the decision is for the ‘greater good’ and not having a massive negative affect of another group ie- physical harm/loss of income ect..) then I say go for it. And also every persons moral view is different and can be argued that its subjective, therefore in a multicultural society every group has to admit some consessions in order to live in harmony

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  14. This is an interesting topic I had not previously given much thought to.
    I do respect that although many religious groups and vegetarian/vegans find the use of animal tallow unacceptable the money saved can be put to use in many areas that would also benefit those same groups, in ways that would directly benefit them. I do not think new notes should be printed. If anything is to be taken from this situation it is to take a more considered approach and factor in all variables before going ahead with a decision. And although I believe that new notes should not be printed despite to objection of a few groups I still think their views and opinions should be heard and respected and should not be called ‘stupid’. What doesn’t matter to you might mean a lot to someone else and vice versa so one should always be empathetic and be sensitive to the needs of the minority, however ultimately if the decision made is for the ‘greater good’ and not having a massive negative affect of another group ie- physical harm/loss of income ect..) then I say go for it. And also every persons moral view is different and can be argued that its subjective, therefore in a multicultural society every group has to admit some consessions in order to live in harmony

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  15. As a vegan I am highly offended by the BoE using an animal product in the new £5 note. It forces myself and other vegans to avoid using the new note, and rely on either coins or electronic payment instead. This is unfair, and I see it as a discriminatory attack on veganism since only non vegans can use the note.

    I strongly disagree with the argument made about how since only a minority of people are offended by the new note, it is somehow justifiable. Only a minority of people involved in gang rape disagree with it, would you say that it’s ok? No.

    The BoE should withdraw the new note and make a vegan friendly one instead. The utilitarian argument about the cost being too large is irrelevant. The BoE should have consulted with the public before deciding to use animal products. They assumed we would be fine with it. That’s almost as bad as trying to assume my gender. Outrageous.

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  16. I’m not too sure how to feel on this one. On the one hand I can see why vegetarians would be upset but on the other the cost of modifying the note seems to outweigh the benefit it would bring.

    I personally have no issue with the new five pound note, but then again I’m not a vegetarian. I can see the issue of it being near impossible to avoid not using the new fiver however I think that the increase in contactless and card payments will render this argument mute in the near future.

    At the end of the day, if your beliefs are strong enough for you to not use the new Fiver, you’ll find an alternative.

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  17. Firstly, I’m not a vegetarian myself. I feel that as long as the cow is being used for something useful as efficiently as possible without wastage then that’s fine. It would be interesting to see an actual figure for how many more cows are killed in total as a result of these notes.

    The article was well written and informative.

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  18. This is a difficult one. Personally it does not bother me that the notes have traces of animal fats. I am neither vegan, vegetarian nor religious. However, in a multi-cultural and ethnically diverse community that we, as humans, are increasingly accustomed to living in, it is important to take the interests of others – all be it a minority – into account. To reverse the process of these notes that have been produced is impossible and extremely expensive as mentioned. Although, had it been thought of prior to the production of the notes in the first place, that the presence of animal fats may indeed cause upset and protests/petitions, then we would not be having this conversation. My conclusion is that due the mass cost for a complete re-change of these notes, it would be inefficient to re-call the notes and produce new ones without the presence of these animals fats. After all, the money could be used for more beneficial purposes (E.G people are starving to death every day)! However, this could be a prove to be lesson in the future for the government, that we must look into all minute details when creating s change as to try to avoid any offence and backlash.

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  19. My understanding of vegetarianism and veganism is that it revolves around the consumption of animals and/or animal products. Firstly, vegetarians would happily eat eggs, cheese, and other animal products so I don’t know why they are getting all hyped about this. Secondly, the beliefs of vegans and vegetarians relate to the consumption of animals/animal products. No one is asking them to eat the £5 notes so them getting all offended is just because they can get offended. If the objection is that animals were abused in the production of this tallow, then they wouldn’t be allowed to touch a leather jacket or a cheese sandwich. Or even entry into a cake shop because of the abuse animals go through to produce milk or eggs.

    Maybe this is due to my flawed understanding of what veganism/vegetarianism is, but if there was consensus amongst the vegetarian/vegan communities, I would have more sympathy for their position. I’m pretty sure there are more than 135,000 vegans and vegetarians across the country.

    That being said, on the point of accommodating people’s beliefs, I think the article has covered it pretty well going through various ethical lenses by which we can view this issue. If accommodation of someone’s beliefs doesn’t cause a disruption to others (in real terms, not a perceived one), brings the protection of minority groups, and develops tolerance within society, I would be happy to support it

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  20. Very good article summing up both sides I think. On the one hand, the crass comment that such outrage (and 100,000 people feeling the need to sign a petition) is “stupid”, can be justified as by looking at the low impact caused to cows (only one cow needed to be killed for every note to be put in circulation). We can also see clear benefits of the notes and the low cost of using animal-derived tallow. Furthermore, the animal was presumably going to be killed for consumption any way as tallow is a waste product. Perhaps ensuring that the tallow is derived from a naturally dying cow (bit hard considering there are almost no wild cows left anywhere on the planet) would help allay some concerns.

    On the other hand, dismissing such concerns sets a precedent that the government (or anyone developing technology for use by everyone in the country) does not have the responsibility to consult with all possible parties. The least that should be done is an apology for this oversight. Holding a set of focus groups is not that expensive, and with a change being implemented that will affect everyone it should definitely be a part of the implementation process for new currency. Perhaps with focus groups we could have avoided having Churchill on the notes as he is basically a mass murderer (but that opens up a whole new can of worms).

    As a member of a religious which considers animals slaughtered incorrectly to be impure, it was a matter of some discomfort, but upon consideration and the fact that the note has literally negligible values of the tallow in each note, I was quite blase about it. I am still surprised that over 100,000 people felt the need to sign a petition asking the government to spend £43 million. Maybe people are just sheep (not cows alas) after all.

    In conclusion, changing the notes now seems to be a rather unworthy investment, however with the new £10 notes soon to be rolled out. With regards to the care ethics versus utilitarianism divergence, it might be possible to satisfy all parties with minimal extra costs if this issue is flagged up during the development stages. As with most engineering issues, this mistakes seems to have been an issue of poor project management rather than poor engineering.

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  21. Hey, if it’s waterproof who cares what it’s made of…!?

    On a serious note, there are many day to day items that are manufactured using animal products; plastic bags is probably the most notable, not only do they contain animal fat – but we have to pay 5p to use them!

    It does make me giggle knowing how many vegetarians must be walking out of their local supermarkets with plastic carrier bags full of vegetables.

    If I’m not mistaken, the same fat used in these new £5 notes is used in much higher quantities in crayons- it’s why your hands become greasy after using them – and gives them that smell.

    I would like to think that the BoE didn’t really have any ulterior motive for adding animal fat – unless of course they are going to diversify into Steakhouses across the UK – my only request would be please make them halal.

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  22. Altering the new fiver would cause more damage than satisfaction. Having said that, to dismiss such an outrage from a minority is insensitive and lazy. The new note might “survive a spin in the washing machine” (seriously?) and last five years or even sit “easier” in my purse, but none of these conveniences ethically justify using such materials when we have pints of access to other – more vegan-friendly – sources. A solution for vegan/vegetarian groups would be to avoid the new fiver completely, although that solution wouldn’t be as sustainable as the note.

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  23. How much more ethical would it be to use palm oil, widely known to be a significant cause of deforestation as an industry, contributing to climate change which affects everyone not just vegans etc

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  24. Interesting. In an ideal world where everyone’s views were considered, respected and taken into account, this wouldn’t have happened. Unfortunately, we don’t currently inhabit this ideal world so it’s one nil to the bankers. Again.

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