Fear of malnourishment is the primary motivation behind Elvira Savino's proposed law, that would send vegan parents to jail for at least 1 year.
If Italian MP Elvira Savino has her way, parents in Italy could go to jail for forcing their children to follow a vegan diet. Savino, who used to work in public relations and now holds a position as deputy for the Forza Italia party, believes that parents should be prosecuted for imposing such “reckless and dangerous eating behavior” on children 16 and under.
In her introduction to the law, Savino explains:
“For years now, particularly in the past decade, the belief has been spreading throughout Italy that a vegetarian diet, even in the more rigid form of a vegan diet, can provide significant benefits to humans. This isn’t a problem when chosen by responsible adults, but it becomes a problem when children are involved.
“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.”
Savino proposed the new law after learning about several recent and disturbing incidents involving negligent parents and inadequate nutrition for young children. In one case, a one-year-old boy in Milan, raised on a strict vegan diet and weighing only 5 kg (11 pounds) when taken from his parents, had to undergo emergency heart surgery; his calcium levels were at the lowest necessary to survive. Another toddler from Genoa spent days in pediatric care in a hospital due to vitamin deficiencies as a result of a vegan diet. Last year, a mother was ordered by an Italian court to cook meat for her 12-year-old son after his father complained that a vegan diet was stunting his growth.
‘Savino’s Law,’ as it’s called, would see imprisonments of one year for veganism, unless a child is under 3 years, in which case an additional year would be added to penalties. If a child has suffered bodily harm, including a minor illness, then jail time would increase to 4 years. If death results, then imprisonment would be up to 7 years.
Huffington Post reports:
“‘If even only one child ends up in a hospital because of this behavior, I feel we have to protect them all,’ said Savino, noting that she believes pediatricians should be obliged to report vegan parents to authorities just as they would if they noticed signs of physical abuse on a child.”
While Savino may have good intentions, her law is off-target. If fear of poor nutrition is the motivation behind her proposal, then what about parents who raise their children on junk food? When I think of the ‘foods’ on which some of my childhood friends were raised – cocoa puffs, strawberry-flavored milk, chocolate sandwich spread on Wonder bread, Kraft dinner, and instant chicken noodle soup in abundance – then why should those parents not be subject to the same persecution? Their transgression, in the eyes of Savino, should be just as serious. If Savino were to look further, she could find plenty of examples of children becoming unhealthy as the result of poor, non-vegan diets, i.e. Italy’s rising childhood obesity problem.
George Monbiot suggests that meat eating is so strongly associated with conventional images of masculinity that people, Savino included, appear to feel threatened by those who give up animal products: “Curiously, she failed to recommend the same sanction for rearing them on chips and sausages.”
The law, currently in draft form, will be discussed by parliamentarians before going to the floor for a debate, expected later this year.