On Dec. 28, 2023, an image was circulated on X (formerly Twitter) with a caption reading, "Italy wants to jail vegans for 4 years if they don't feed their kids meat." We found that the rumor was spread on X and Reddit at least since 2016 and was not exactly true. We explain below.
— I,Hypocrite (@lporiginalg) December 28, 2023
"We want vegans to stop forcing their lifestyle on kids so we're making an actual law to force ours on them instead," a post published in 2020 on Reddit read.
The above-mentioned posts on the topic referenced a headline of an article published on distractify.com website. As of this writing, the Distractify's article with the title "Italy Wants To Jail Vegans For 4 Years If They Don't Feed Their Kids Meat" was not available online. However, we recovered the link using Wayback Machine, an online Internet archive.
(Wayback Machine screenshot)
The article, published on Aug. 9, 2016, read:
Last month, Italian police in Milan removed a 14-month-old baby from his vegan parents after he arrived at a hospital suffering from severe undernourishment. The baby's grandparents, who took him to hospital, said that he was being forced to eat a vegan diet, while doctors found that he had calcium levels barely adequate to survive.
Now we're seeing the repercussions of that case. Legislation recently proposed by Elvira Savino of the Forza Italia party, would put parents in jail for four years if they provide an “inadequate” diet for their children.
The legislation is still in early phases, but Savino says that the law would make parents criminally liable if a diet they force on their child leads to deficiencies in iron, zinc and important vitamins for growth. She points out that a lack of these vitamins and minerals can cause neurological problems and anemia.
On Aug. 10, 2016, Reuters published a similar article with the title, "Parents who insist on vegan diet for children may risk jail in Italy." The article informed:
ROME (Reuters) - If parliamentarian Elvira Savino has her way, Italian parents who insist on a vegan diet for their children will risk up to four years in jail.
Savino, from the conservative Forza Italia party, has put forward a law that would hold parents legally responsible for feeding their children on "a diet devoid of elements essential for healthy and balanced growth", according to its text.
"I have nothing against vegans or veganism as long as it is a free choice by adults," she told Reuters in a telephone interview on Wednesday, days after she presented the proposed law in the lower house Chamber of Deputies.
In 2016, the topic of the Italian law proposal was also covered by other news outlets such as BBC, The Washington Post, and The Independent. Our research indicates that the proposed law was not passed. Initially presented in 2016, it was subsequently referred to a commission for further consideration. However, with the conclusion of the XVII Legislature in 2018, the proposal lapsed without being passed into law.
We found the in-question draft law (Disegno Di Legge n. 3972/2016), presented by Elvira Savino from the conservative Forza Italia party, on the official website of the Italian Chamber of Deputies (lower house of the bicameral parliament).
The draft law aimed to change the Italian Penal Code in the section of "Crimes against family assistance," specifically Article 572 that regarded "maltreatment against family members or cohabitants." Importantly, the proposal did not mention a vegan diet explicitly but "a diet devoid of essential elements for the healthy and balanced growth of the minor."
Here's the full law proposal (we translated it from Italian, emphasis ours):
1. The following are inserted after article 572 of the penal code:
« ART. 572-bis. – (Imposition of a diet devoid of essential elements for the growth of a minor). – Whoever, outside the cases provided for in article 572, imposes or adopts on a minor under the age of sixteen, subject to his parental responsibility or entrusted to him for reasons of upbringing, instruction, care, supervision or custody, a diet devoid of essential elements for the healthy and balanced growth of the minor himself is punished with imprisonment of up to one year. If the fact envisaged in the first paragraph results in a permanent illness or personal injury to the minor, the penalty is imprisonment from two years and six months to four years; if it results in the death of the minor, the penalty is imprisonment from four to six years
ART. 572-ter. – (Aggravating circumstance).
– The penalties referred to in article 572-bis are increased by twelve months if the conduct sanctioned therein is adopted against minors under the age of three"».
As the legal proposal stated, whoever imposed "a diet devoid of essential elements for the healthy and balanced growth" on the minor would face imprisonment up to four years, and up to six years if the diet would result in the death of the minor. Therefore, the draft law did not aim to "jail vegans for 4 years if they didn't feed their kids meat."
However, the vegan diet was mentioned several times in the introduction to the proposal. For instance, Savino claimed (translation and emphasis ours):
As far as children are concerned, in fact, it is reasonable to think that the choice of vegan or vegetarian diet is too restrictive and leads to nutritional deficiencies even serious ones, which can have repercussions on the somatic and cognitive development of child.
The vegetarian or vegan diet, in fact, is deficient in zinc, heme-type iron (content in meat and fish), vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega-3.
To grow, a child needs excellent quality proteins, the lack of which could lead to deficiencies that could compromise its development. Children, to grow healthy and well-nourished, they must eat – explain the doctors – even meat and fish, where it is possible to find arginine, which is an essential amino acid for their growth.