Mamma mia! An Italian politician has proposed “malnutrition” legislation that would jail parents who raise their children vegan or vegetarian.
The bill suggests one-year prison sentences for parents who feed their kids a vegetarian or vegan diet and stiffer penalties if the child is injured, sickened, or even killed from being malnourished. Elvira Savino, the bill’s sponsor, says the government should stop this “reckless and dangerous eating behavior imposed by parents” on children under 16.
Of course, the idea that children are malnourished is horrifying, and recently there have been a few scary headlines in Italy of toddlers suffering serious health problems after being fed a vegan diet. Last month, a 2-year-old was hospitalized with vitamin deficiencies, and this month, a 1-year-old was also hospitalized for being severely underweight. Disturbing? Yes. But these examples are outliers. The millions of malnourished children around the world are overwhelmingly victims of poverty or war—not their parents’ dietary decisions.
Savino’s claim that meat-free diets are “reckless and dangerous” is ridiculous. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say vegetarian and vegan diets are healthy for infants and children if “well-planned and carefully followed.”
Parents can’t just cut meat or milk off the menu without replacing those nutrients somewhere else. Research shows they need to make sure their kids are getting enough calcium, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and protein. Most of these nutrients can be part of a plant-based diet, and others (like B12) can come from supplements.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has comprehensive nutritional guidelines for parents to follow and PETA’s website includes tons of suggestions of veggie and vegan-friendly foods that can be found at most grocery stores. With effort—and lots of communication with your pediatrician—you’ll never need to make chicken nuggets.