Parents in Italy who choose not to feed their children meat and dairy may soon find themselves facing jail time for their strict dietary choices, and it could set a precedent for other countries around the world.
On Wednesday, Italian lawmaker Elvira Savino proposed legislation to send parents who feed their children vegan diets to prison. In the text of the bill, she claimed parents who force their kids to go vegan are imposing a diet "devoid of essential elements for [children's] healthy and balanced growth."
"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."
The law would apply to parents of children under 16 and penalties would increase by a year for children under 3. If passed, the law would give parents a year in prison just for feeding their children a vegan diet, up to four years behind bars if a child develops health problems due to the diet, and up to seven years if a child dies from not eating meat or dairy. The proposed law was introduced after a number of high-profile cases in Italy in which children became ill due to vegan diets. In July, a 14-month-old child who had been fed a vegan diet was removed from parental custody after arriving extremely malnourished at a Milan hospital. Savino said parents in these instances should be reported to authorities in the same way that those suspected of child abuse are.
"If even only one child ends up in a hospital because of this behavior, I feel we have to protect them all," Savino said.
Research on the effects of a vegan diet on children's health varies, though pediatricians warn it could cause a deficiency of crucial vitamins like calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. A draft of the bill is expected to go to the floor of Italian parliament for debate sometime later this year.