Earlier this year, the central bank faced a backlash when it emerged that it was using tallow, a rendered form of beef or mutton fat, in its new plastic £5 note, which went into circulation in September.
In February, the BofE decided against ditching the use of tallow for the £5 note and the new polymer £10 note, which will launch in September. However, it promised to investigate alternatives for the new £20 note and future reprints of the £5 and £10.
After speaking with affected groups and commissioning an independent report from consultancy Efeca, the bank says that three options emerged: keeping tallow, palm oil and coconut oil.
Coconut oil has been dismissed, leaving palm oil as the only alternative. However, the substance is highly controversial because of the impact its production has on rainforests. Between 19909 and 2008, the oil was responsible for eight per cent of the world’s deforestation.
The BofE says that the environmental impact could be potentially mitigated if its suppliers (De La Rue and Innovia Security) acquire additives that “meet an associated certification standard” for environmentally sustainable production.
Palm oil would also have to meet technical and operational requirements, something that De La Rue and Innovia Security are investigating before the bank makes a final decision. The public is also being invited to take part in a consultation on the issue.
Emma Keller, agriculture commodities manager, World Wildlife Fund, told Sky News: “WWF is encouraged to see the thorough and extensive review that the Bank of England have conducted in response to the animal fat issue in new bank notes.
“Palm oil has benefits as it produces more oil per land area than any other equivalent oil crop. Worldwide demand is expected to double again by 2050 but this expansion comes at the expense of human rights and tropical forest – which forms critical habitat for a large number of endangered wildlife – unless it is sustainable.
“People don’t want the bank notes in their pocket to come with such a high environmental cost. The bank must only source RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified sustainable palm oil or none at all.”