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Should the UK introduce Italy’s anti-vegan law?

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We spoke to some criminal lawyers to find out

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Politicians in Italy are in the process of introducing a law that could see parents locked away for feeding their children vegan diets, and UK lawyers are not very happy about it.

According to reports in The Standard, draft legislation pushed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party says parents who feed their kids a vegan diet could be put in prison for up to a year.

Unsurprisingly, the UK has no vegan-specific law like this one, but that doesn’t mean parents aren’t accountable for what their child eats.

Since 1933, legislation has criminalised cruelty to children, with malnourishment falling under the heading of cruelty.

However, feeding your children a vegan diet is not equal to malnourishment, and — after a quick chat with some of the country’s leading criminal lawyers — we feel very sceptical about whether the 1933 legislation would catch this sort of behaviour. This is the case even though, as pointed out by barrister Max Hardy, s66 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 amended the offence to include non-physical, psychological harm. He continued:

[T]his could conceivably provide a platform for a claim that, though a child’s physical health was not suffering through a meat-free diet, their mental health was.

That said, Hardy was quick to point out this possibility is a “bit of a stretch”.

So, do we need to follow in the footsteps of the Italians and consider our own anti-vegan legislation?

The overwhelming response from the lawyers we spoke to was no.

Anonymous advocate Secret Barrister described the proposed law as “entirely unnecessary in England and Wales.” Parents, he told us, could do a lot worse than feed their sprog a quinoa sandwich.

This view was shared by 9-12 Bell Yard barrister Daniel Sternberg. He told Legal Cheek:

With the greatest of respect to Mr Berlusconi’s party, it sounds like a headline-grabbing initiative that hasn’t been properly thought out.

Blogging barrister Matthew Scott agreed with Sternberg’s sentiments, adding:

[T]his absurd woman [Forza party member Elvira Savino, who is pushing for the legislation] seems to think that a vegan diet is in itself inadequate, a point of view that is even more ridiculous in sunny Italy with its delicious fruit, vegetables, nuts and olive oil than it would be in England; in fact she even seems to be suggesting that a vegetarian diet should be banned for children. I suspect almost all parents, especially the vegan ones, know a great deal more about nutrition than this asinine Signora [foolish lady] thinks she knows, (and I speak as a meat eater).

What do you think — should parents be punished for feeding their children vegan diets?