Italy, which is out of step with the latest science, is considering a controversial bill to coerce parents to feed their children meat, dairy and eggs. It would impose jail terms on those who provide their children with a vegan diet, no matter how wholesome it is.
Some parents, the draft bill claims, are imposing a diet “devoid of essential elements for [children’s] healthy and balanced growth.”
The legislation follows a number of high-profile Italian cases where malnourished children have been taken into care. In four cases over the last 18 months, malnourished children were hospitalized in Italy after being fed a vegan diet.
However, dieticians such as the American Dietetic Association say vegan diets are suitable for children but advise that care needs to be taken to ensure children are receiving the full range of required nutrients – in particular vitamin B12. Doctors speculated in some cases that the guardians of the hospitalized children may not have understood how to supplement a vegan diet to make it safe for children.
A vegan diet eliminates anything which originates from animals: no meat, fish, animal fats or gelatin; no dairy products such as cow’s milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, goat’s or sheep’s milk; no eggs, nor foods containing eggs; and some include honey.
Though the bill’s author highlights the spreading belief in Italy of “substantial health benefits” provided by a vegetarian diet, saying, “There is no objection if the person making this choice is an informed adult,” she goes on to say, “The problem arises when children are involved… The vegetarian or vegan diet is, in fact, deficient in zinc, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega-3.”
The draft bill aims to “stigmatise the reckless and dangerous eating behavior imposed by parents” who pursue a vegan diet, “to the detriment of minors.” Offenders would face a minimum of a year in jail and up to four years if the child suffers illness or permanent injury and six year in the case of death.
The bill would set up an impossible situation. Children would be forced to develop a taste for meat, which is difficult to overcome, while their parents choose to use a vegan diet themselves.
The bill is an example of government over-reaction. Italy no doubt already has child neglect laws that could be used in extreme cases where parents deliberately neglect to provide their children with adequate nutrition. The science is so overwhelmingly in support of a plant-based diet for health reasons, that a bit of education would perhaps do more good than a bill to jail any parent for something that is actually good.
Removing the rights of parents who want to do the right thing by their children is an evil that will manifest itself more broadly in other ways.
“In order to know what are the best foods, we must study God’s original plan for man’s diet. He who created man and who understands his needs appointed Adam his food… Grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables constitute the diet chosen for us by our Creator.” Child Guidance, page 380.