“I have nothing against vegans or veganism as long as it is a free choice by adults,” the lawmaker, Elvira Savino of the conservative Forza Italia party, told Reuters Wednesday. “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.”
Offending parents could be sentenced to at least a year-long stint in jail for restricting their children to a vegan diet, according to the BBC. If the child becomes sick or injured because of the diet the sentence rises to four years and again to six years if the child dies.
The legislation contends that many parents don’t know how to add nutritional supplements to their child’s vegan diet because they never consult medical professionals. Vegans don’t eat animal products, including dairy, eggs, meat, fish, honey and animal fats.
“These children are literally underfed, put in mortal danger from unwary parents who have decided to follow a philosophical movement,” the proposed law, in Italian, reads.
But veganism itself isn’t necessarily dangerous to children, the American of Nutrition and Dietetics points out. It just takes extra work.
“Well-planned vegetarian and vegan eating patterns are healthy for infants and toddlers,” according to its publication, Eat Right. “Time and attention are necessary to help young children, vegetarian or not, get all the nutrients they need for normal growth and development.”
Britain’s National Health Service recommends vegan and vegetarian children get two or three extra portions of vegetable proteins or nuts every day to make sure they’re getting enough protein and iron.
The proposed law comes after multiple Italian infants were hospitalized for undernourishment after reportedly being fed vegan diets.
In July a malnourished baby was hospitalized because his parents kept him on a vegan diet without any nutritional supplements. At 14 months old, the baby weighed only slightly more than a 3-month-old should. The baby was removed from the parents’ custody. A month earlier, a 2-year-old girl on a vegan diet spent several days in intensive care for vitamin deficiencies and low hemoglobin levels. In 2015, an 11-month-old with vegan parents was also treated for severe malnutrition.
If enacted, the legislation wouldn’t be the first time the Italian government has stepped into its people’s kitchens. Last year, an Italian court ordered a vegan woman to feed her son meat at least once a week after her divorced husband complained he wasn’t getting enough nourishment, according to the Local. Earlier in 2015 a father was sentenced to nine months in prison after forcing his teen daughters to maintain a strict diet of whole grains, cereals and vegetables because he thought they were too fat.
Savino’s proposal will be discussed by parliamentary committees before it is debated in Italy’s lower chamber later in the year, according to the BBC. Simultaneously, other Italian lawmakers have proposed laws that would make vegan and vegetarian options more common in the country’s eateries.