A new bill before the Italian parliament could make it illegal for parents to feed their children a vegan diet – including up to a year of jail time even in cases where children are perfectly healthy and meeting their nutritional needs. The draft bill is the creation of Elvira Savino, a member of Italy’s center-right Forza Italia party.
In the proposed bill, Savino refers to the vegetarian or vegan diet as “reckless and dangerous” and claims it is “devoid of essential elements for [children’s] healthy and balanced growth.” This is at odds with the stance of many health organizations – the American Dietetic Association, for instance, advises that parents must be careful to ensure children receive the nutrients they need (and vitamin B12 in particular), but says that otherwise the diet is safe and suitable for children.
The law appears to be a reaction to several recent high-profile child neglect cases within the country where children were hospitalized for malnourishment after being fed a vegan diet. Doctors believe the parents in these cases were misinformed and didn’t understand how to properly supplement a vegan diet to meet the needs of a growing child. Though these cases are obviously tragic, the solution would be to provide better education to new parents rather than throwing them in jail for their dietary choices.
Savino’s heart may be in the right place – the bill would penalize parents whose children become injured or ill through malnourishment with four years in prison, and six years if their actions result in the death of the child. But the bill’s narrow targeting of vegans is unfair, especially considering that there are surely other laws already on the books meant to protect children from neglectful situations.
For the moment, the bill is still just a proposal and nowhere near becoming a law. It needs to be discussed by parliamentary committees and then it will be passed to the chamber for debate later in the year. Hopefully Savino’s colleagues will see just how ridiculous the proposal is and it will be scrapped soon.