A new law proposed in Italy could put parents in prison for forcing their children to eat a vegan diet. The potential legislation will jail parents for several years if a child 16 years old or younger is restricted to meals "devoid of essential elements for healthy growth."
Elvira Savino of the conservative Forza Italia party drafted the bill. She is worried that the growing popularity of vegan diets in Italy will deprive children of "radicalized" parents from proper nutrition. According to her, the diet lacks essential nutrients such as zinc, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega-3, which are needed for proper development.
"For years now, and particularly in the last decade, the belief has been spreading that a vegetarian diet, even in its most rigid form as a vegan diet, provides substantial contributions to health," Savino explained. "The problem arises when children are to be involved."
If the law is passed in Italy, parents will face one year in prison for failing to provide a child with a proper diet. Yet, the sentence could be increased to four years if the child is "permanently sick or hurt." A six-year sentence will be imposed should a child die. If the child is under 3 years old, the penalties can go even higher.
The Italian Society of Food Science denounced the vegan law as overreaching. President Andrea Ghiselli said diets high in sugar and fat are a much greater danger to the health of children than the possibility of malnutrition from a vegan diet.
The idea behind the law came about after several high-profile Italian cases of malnutrition occurred when parents forced a vegan diet on their children. Just in the last 18 months, four incidences of malnourished children being sent to the hospital sparked outrage.
One tragic case happened last month in Milan, Italy. A 14-month-old baby, who weighed the same as a typical 3-month-old, was brought to the hospital by the grandparents.
Upon arrival, doctors were shocked to see the baby's dire condition. An examination revealed the child was severely malnourished and suffering from dangerously low calcium levels. Staff at the hospital alerted social services, and an investigation found the parents kept the child on a strict vegan diet. The baby was removed from the home and the parents lost custodial rights.
In June, a 2-year-old girl was hospitalized in Genoa for malnutrition. After spending a number of days in the intensive care unit, doctors discovered low levels of hemoglobin and vitamin deficiencies.
Italy is not the only country seeing cases of severely malnourished children from eating a vegan diet forced by parents. After an 11-month-old baby died from vitamin deficiencies, a couple in France was charged with child neglect. A vegan couple in the U.S. was sentenced to life in prison after their 6-week-old son was starved to death from being fed a diet consisting of only soy milk and apple juice.
According to the BBC, the vegan diet law proposed in Italy will now go to parliamentary committees for discussion, and then debates will be scheduled for later this year. Opponents of the bill believe public education would be more effective than punitive measures.
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