Is a vegan diet child abuse? Where is the line between parents’ dietary practices and the government’s duty to protect minors? Following the hospitalization of a vegan child, a bill in Italy aims to make veganism a criminal offense.
Raising children vegan is already a controversial topic, involving such hot-button issues as proper parenting, dietary choice, child nutrition, religious freedom and parental responsibility. But when a vegan infant or child becomes seriously ill or passes away, the debate moves from the realm of the controversial to the criminal.
At the time of this video’s release, a draft bill in Italy aims to impose jail time on parents who feed their children a vegan diet. The bill, proposed by Elvira Savino of the centre-right Forza Italia party, follows the fourth hospitalization of a vegan child in 18 months.
While the media flurry around the bill in Italy will no doubt soon be replaced with the next controversy of the moment, this is not the first nor will it be the last time the endangerment and death of children presumably being fed a vegan diet, has garnered international attention.
As with most stories in the media, there’s plenty of coverage surrounding the Savino bill, but not a whole lot of pertinent information being offered. [tweet this]
As the media largely runs on sensationalism and speed, selling editions and ad space trumps accuracy of presentation, and quantity outpaces quality every time.
Connecting a “vegan diet” with a criminally malnourished child is sure to sell, but what’s rarely discussed in these cases is specifically what the child was being fed and whether there were other contributing factors. When these details are provided—usually in follow-up stories quietly released long after the frenzy—the real problem is revealed. Let’s look at some examples:
In France, the 11-month-old daughter of a “militant” vegan couple died reportedly from severe vitamin deficiencies due to her diet consisting exclusively of her mother’s breast milk. Interestingly, the fact that she was “only” given breast milk is presented as a crime in and of itself.
Of course later it’s revealed that after being told their daughter had pneumonia in a previous trip to the hospital, the parents ignored the doctors orders and instead treated her illness with mustard, garlic and clay on the advice of a 35-year-old text on alternative medicine, with the mother’s vegan diet now but a side note. 
In England a baby died as a result of a raw vegan diet—which apparently consisted of tomato juice and water.
In Atlanta, Georgia, the 6-week-old son of a vegan couple starved to death—this time on a mixture of soy milk and apple juice.
In perfect summation, the Atlanta prosecutor stated that:
“No matter how many times they want to say, ‘We’re vegans, we’re vegetarians,’ that’s not the issue in this case … The child died because he was not fed. Period.” 
If I fed a child an exclusive diet of Oreo cookies, would the resulting health consequences mean a vegan diet is dangerous for kids? Were a child in Europe, where Oreos do contain animal byproducts, fed the exact same diet, would their resulting health consequences mean a non-vegan diet is dangerous for kids?
In addition to the information that’s not offered, it’s important to take note of the writers’ language choices. The smallest tweak in vocabulary can infuse a presumably impartial report with extreme bias, essentially making the reader’s conclusion for them before they even read the story. In the Italy articles we have such gems as:
“The bill follows a series of high-profile cases in which children became ill after allegedly being restricted to a vegan diet.”
“It emerged he had been subjected to a vegan diet, leaving him dangerously malnourished and with low calcium levels.”
“There have been four recent high-profile cases of malnourished children being removed from the care of their parents, after they had been coerced into adopting a vegan diet.”
“for making young children eat a vegan diet”
“Parents Who Insist on Vegan Diet for Children May Risk Jail in Italy”
Definitely fair and balanced.
In reality, we don’t know enough about the hospitalized children in Italy. I was only able to find individual stories on three of the four, with one not even sure if the child was fed a vegan diet.
Still, the public is left with the message screamed in every headline, that veganism is a dangerous diet forcefully imposed upon children by their criminally irresponsible parent’s adherence to militant ideology.
Once again, sensationalism sacrifices objective truth.
The reinforcement of these falsehoods reach far beyond the case in Italy. The misinformation and disinformation surrounding nutrition and the true impact of animal products on our health and the health of our children is a global issue. It results in such absurdities as Savino’s bill.
Now I’m not saying parents shouldn’t be held responsible for their child’s health—quite the opposite. Were Savino simply calling for accountability when a child’s inadequate nutrition leads to severe illness or death, I doubt there would be much resistance.
But she states her purpose is to “stigmatize the reckless and dangerous eating behavior imposed by parents who pursue a vegan diet, to the detriment of minors.”
The bill then calls for a punishment ranging from one year for even feeding a child a meatless diet to up to six years if such a diet results in the child’s death.
Shockingly enough, there exists something of a legal precedence for this in Italy. In April 2015, Italian courts ordered a mother to feed her son meat once a week after her former husband—who “took his son out for meals at McDonalds and prepared desserts, meat and dairy dishes on weekends”—complained that the macrobiotic diet his mother had started him on—the actual specifics of which again are not included—was putting him at risk. Oddly enough, the father was also ordered to not feed his son meat more than twice on weekends.
While this is certainly a more extreme manifestation, Savino’s bill is just another example of the perverse reversal of truth inherent in the medical and nutrition fields.
To illustrate what I mean, in 2013, Savino proposed a bill calling for an increase in support for children with blood disorders and cancers. In her current bill she’s essentially calling for force-feeding meat to children,
Study after study has shown the connection between consuming animal products and incidents of cancer, with the WHO now classifying certain processed meats definitively as class one carcinogens. And while WHO only evaluated red and processed meats, the largest study on diet and cancer in human history— following a half million people for over ten years now—additionally included poultry, offal, eggs and dairy in their analysis, and found that poultry consumption was most associated with the risk of developing lymphoma (with a significantly increased risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, all grades of follicular lymphoma, B-cell lymphomas in general, including B-cell chronic lymphatic leukemia, including small lymphocytic leukemia and prolymphocytic lymphocytic leukemia)—“up to triple the rates for every 50 grams,” the equivalent of just a quarter of a chicken breast. 
And while people eating a plant-based diet are definitively less likely to develop all forms of cancer combined, a University of Oxford study conducted over more than 12 years showed the greatest protection provided was against blood cancers.
So in essence, Savino is insisting children consume foods that severely increase their risk of the very cancers she’s claiming to fight, while criminalizing their most effective prevention. [tweet this]
It’s a perfect illustration of the perverse self-sustaining cycle upon which corporatized medicine, the animal products industry, and some governmental programs depend. Make a big show about the honorable “search for the cure.” Hold fundraisers and marches. Make ribbons and social media challenges. Pull in billions of dollars for research. And be sure to ignore the mounting and long-standing evidence that simply changing our diets would prevent the vast majority of diseases, save thousands if not millions of lives, and trillions of dollars, which may be the point after all. So doctors, nutritionists, and governmental organizations continue to recommend eating animal products, decry the dangers of veganism, then propose more programs and initiatives to combat the inevitable rise of diseases, vowing nobly to fight the epidemics of their own creation.
It’s absolute madness.
And if we’re going to play the false duality game of using isolated cases of children obviously fed unbalanced diets that happened to not contain animal products as proof that veganism as a whole is dangerous for kids, it’s only fair to apply the same logic in reverse.
How many children have been hospitalized due to diets that do contain animal products? If we really want to help the most children possible, shouldn’t we look at the main cause of illness and death?
In Italy, just like the United States, heart disease is the number one killer. We’ve long had proof that a balanced vegan diet can prevent and even reverse heart disease.
One in three children in Italy are overweight or obese, one of the highest rates internationally. The largest study to date on body mass index showed the only group within the ideal weight range was vegans, with even the average vegetarian coming in overweight.
Still even vegetarian children grow up thinner and even taller than meat-eating kids. But at least those kids get to grow wider, gaining along with the weight “twice the risk of dying from heart attack, more cancer, gout…arthritis,”  diabetes and more.
And while “vegetarian diets in general confer protection against cardiovascular disease, some cancers and death” (total mortality), vegan diets “offer additional protection for obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease mortality.” Only vegans showed significanlty lower levels of the cancer-promoting growth hormone IGF-1, with fully plant-based diets even reversing cancer growth.
Childhood diabetes alone “cuts nearly 20 years” off their life expectancy.
We are condemning our children to death under the guise of their care.
This woeful inadequacy of our system’s self-induced impotenece was made painfully evident when an 8-year-old boy weighing 200 pounds was removed from his home when authorities determined his condition to be a form of medical neglect. While it’s encouraging to see overnutrition recognized as but the other end of the malnourishment spectrum, such state intervention leaves authorities with the difficulty of determining exactly when a child’s weight is dangerous enough. So they offer pathetically empty recommendations for yet more government programs, the absolute farcicality of which bioethics professor Arthur Caplan elucidates with depressing clarity:
“one could get ethical whiplash in a world where one arm of government is so concerned about a child’s weight that it removes him from his home, while another branch of government argues that french fries and tomato paste on pizza should be counted as servings of vegetables.”
It’s fortunate that Savino is focusing on these isolated cases of supposed “vegan” malnourishment, because even if governments were to intervene in the other side of the spectrum, the sad reality is that there are simply too many overweight children to place. And after all, “who will take care of their health when neither their government nor their families seem to know how?”
Savino’s insistence that iron, protein, b12, and omega three must come from animal products ignores the fact that these “foods” are a package deal. Along with animal protein comes cancer.
The vitamin D and calcium in dairy comes complete with “acne…premature puberty, multiple pregnancies…breast cancer, prostate cancer, other hormone-dependent cancers, declining sperm counts, excess estrogen, and heart disease.” 
The omega-3 in fish includes the bonus of mercury and PCBs, which adversely affect brain development, result in lower IQ scores, and increase cancer risk and mortality in cardiac patients.
Yet when we just skip the middle animal and obtain these nutrients from their original plant sources, they come packaged with the disease-fighting and health-promoting compounds like antioxidants and fiber, that are completely absent in animal products. b12, when not present in fortified foods, is easily and cheaply supplemented. And vitamin D supplements are advised for anyone not gaining adequate exposure to the sun.
Additionally, I’ve provided an absurd amount of additional information, citations, and resources at the base of this post.
In the end, I actually hope this video has helped achieve what Savino says is her goal—to increase personal responsibility for our children’s nutrition and welfare. I also hope this video has shown that this must be an individual effort.
We cannot trust what we’re told. So do the research. Take accountability. This is life and death.
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— Emily Moran Barwick