Food

Parents Who Raise Kids on a Vegan Diet Could Be Jailed Under Proposed Italian Law

Under the proposed law, parents could face a year in prison for feeding their children a plant-based diet.

Young mum chopping vegetables with twin daughters in a family home kitchen.
Photo Credit: MJTH/Shutterstock

A member of Italy's parliament has proposed a controversial new bill that would put parents behind bars if they restrict their children to a vegan diet.

Elvira Savino of the conservative Forza Italia party wants to send parents to jail if they impose a vegan diet on children aged 16 and under, the Guardian reported (via La Repubblica). The so-called "Savino law" would "stigmatize the reckless and dangerous eating behavior imposed by parents ... to the detriment of minors."

The draft bill states (in Italian) that a vegan diet is "devoid of essential elements for [children's] healthy and balanced growth."

According to Savino, a diet that eliminates meat or animals products such as eggs or milk can leave children lacking the vitamins necessary for their development such as iron, zinc, B12 and other nutrients.

Under the proposed law, parents would be jailed for a year for raising a child on a vegan diet, up to four years if the child develops a permanent health problem and up to seven years if the child dies as a result of the diet, Reuters reported.

Savino has presented the proposed law in the lower house Chamber of Deputies.

"I have nothing against vegans or veganism as long as it is a free choice by adults," Savino told Reuters.

"I just find it absurd that some parents are allowed to impose their will on children in an almost fanatical, religious way, often without proper scientific knowledge or medical consultation," she added. "Do-it-yourself on these matters terrorizes me."

The measure follows four Italian cases over the last year and a half where malnourished children were hospitalized after being fed a vegan diet. The most recent case happened in June, when a two-year-old girl in serious condition was hospitalized in Genoa. Doctors found she had a lack of the vitamin B12 and low hemoglobin levels. The health problems were possibly linked to the young girl's vegan diet. 

Health professionals speculated that the guardians of the hospitalized children did not know how to supplement a vegan diet for a child's dietary needs, BBC reported. For vegan or vegetarian children, it important they take supplements or consume fortified foods for important nutrients. 

Savino's bill highlights the spreading belief in Italy of "substantial health benefits" provided by a vegetarian or vegan diet. According to the BBC, there are three rival bills that are trying to implement more vegan and vegetarian options in Italian canteens. 

In Italy, the home of cheesy and meaty dishes such as pizza and bolognese, more and more people are demanding organic and high-quality food products which they consider more sustainable and environmentally friendly, Euromonitor found. Not only that, Italians are switching to vegetarianism or reducing their meat consumption at increasing rates, with more than 6 million vegetarians or 10 percent of the country's population—the highest percentage of vegetarianism in the European Union.

Last month, the new mayor of Turin, Chiara Appendino, proposed plans to create Italy's first "vegetarian city." As The Guardian wrote:

"According to the [populist Five Star Movement's] 62-page manifesto—which also called for better urban planning and the protection of public land—Turin's new mayor said the endorsement of meat-free and even dairy-free living was fundamental to the protection of the environment, health, and the wellbeing of animals."

It's true that a vegan or vegetarian diet is better for the planet. As EcoWatch Insights writer Dr. David Suzuki pointed out recently, if more people gave up or cut down on their meat consumption, the environment and climate would benefit substantially and would help prevent runaway climate change.

"Animal agriculture produces huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, consumes massive volumes of water and causes a lot of pollution," Suzuki wrote.

According to the American Dietetic Association, "appropriately planned" vegan or vegetarian diets "are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." A plant-based diet has a number of health benefits including lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease, lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates than nonvegetarians.

Savino told Reuters she has a seven-year-old son who eats meat "but not too much." Her proposed policy will be discussed by parliamentary committees before going to the chamber for debate possibly later this year.

Lorraine Chow is a freelance writer and reporter based in South Carolina.

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