Vegetarian cafe refuses to accept £5 note made with animal byproduct

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The Rainbow cafe in Cambridge has been runnerup in the Observer Food awards ethical restaurant section for five years. Photograph: PR

A vegetarian restaurant owner’s decision not to accept the new £5 note because it contains traces of meat byproducts has come under fire from vegetarians and carnivores alike.

Sharon Meijland, who has run the Rainbow cafe in Cambridge for the past three decades, said she would not allow customers to pay with the polymer note as tallow – an animal byproduct – is used during the production process.

The businesswoman said she had been left shocked and frightened by some of the online reaction to her decision.

But she claimed that her own customers have been supportive of her stance.

She said: “Our own customers who are actually in the restaurant in Cambridge have been very favourable, but it is people on Facebook – there’s been a good deal of charming comments such as ‘I hope this comes back to bite you in the ass’.”

Among the social media users to criticise her position were Stephen Coltrane, who said he had eaten at the Rainbow cafe and enjoyed it. But he described Meijland’s stance as an “over-reaction”.

Robbie Weir tweeted: “Pretty hypocritical when the food on your menu … contains animal products.”

Denise Venn tweeted: “I’m veggie and I find this so embarrassing. We’re not all this stupid.”

Others accused Meijland, 66, of seeking publicity, but she rejected the claim and said some people were reacting in such a way “because I made a stand”.

More than 125,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Bank Of England to remove tallow from the new notes.

After signing it, Meijland said she spoke with staff and they decided they could not justify handling the notes.

She said: “We all said we all felt very uneasy about handling it. We thought the only way round this is to just not accept them.”

Vowing to stick with the decision, she added: “I am shocked and frightened at my age to get such hatred [online].”

The cafe has been runnerup in the best ethical restaurant category in the Observer Food Monthly awards for the past five years, Meijland added.

Polymer bank notes, which last far longer than their paper equivalents, were developed in Australia.

Prof David Solomon, who led a CSIRO team that created the notes, said this week that the tallow controversy was “absolutely stupid”, adding: “There’s trivial amounts of it in there.”

As well as being very robust and extremely hard to forge, Solomon said polymer notes were also far more hygienic.

The Bank of England said this week that Innovia, the company that makes the polymer fiver, was considering “potential solutions” to the problem.

“Innovia is now working intensively with its supply chain and will keep the Bank informed on progress towards potential solutions,” it said.

The polymer fiver – the first to be printed on polymer by the Bank of England – was introduced in September and is likely to signal the beginning of the end for paper money.