The Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium published a legal opinion on Thursday 16th May which takes a strict position on veganism.
Quite simply it is “not ethical” to impose veganism on children according to the Academy. It claims that certain animal proteins and vital amino acids will be absent. These assist growth and prevent health problems, so accordingly doctors in Belgium are calling for adults who raise their children as vegans to be prosecuted.
This legal opinion has influence and so it will no doubt influence future court judgments in Belgium.
The commission that wrote the report was led by Professor Georges Casimir, a paediatrician. It concluded that a vegan diet could only be safe for growing children if complemented with medical supervision, regular blood tests and vitamin supplements. Most parents are of course not qualified to provide this and so the health authorities must in their opinion intervene to prevent children from becoming endangered.
The legal opinion was sought by a government official responsible for children’s rights and protection in Brussels and Wallonia, a French-speaking region. Mr Bernard Devos was concerned by several children who had health problems in Belgian nurseries, schools and hospitals, according to Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper. He wanted a route for it to be easier to take a child away from a parent who was forcing that child to follow what he considered to be a restrictive diet.
“A vegan diet can kill”
The legal opinion states that:
“This restrictive regime requires ongoing monitoring of children to avoid deficiencies and often irreversible growth delays. It is unsuitable for unborn children, children, teenagers and pregnant and lactating women.
“It is not medically recommended and even forbidden to subject a child, especially during periods of rapid growth, to a potentially destabilising diet, requiring frequent supplementation and control.
“This concept of nutrition is similar to a form of treatment that it is not ethical to impose on children.”
So the upshot now is that forcing a child to follow a vegan diet would now become a crime which carries a sentence of up to two years and fines in Belgium. The crime would be defined within a 1961 crime as “non-assistance to a person in danger”.
According to Prof Casimir’s comments to Le Soir, a parent can now be prosecuted even if he or she is unaware that the child is in danger because the legal opinion makes it common knowledge in the public domain that “a vegan diet can kill.”
Prof Casimir’s position is that “when we are children, the body manufactures brain cells. This implies higher requirements for protein and essential fatty acids. The body does not produce them, it must be brought in via animal proteins.
“We are talking here about stunted growth and psychomotor delays, undernutrition, significant anaemia. Some developments must be done at a specific time in life and if they are not done, it is irreversible.”
This has become an issue in Belgium due to various high profile cases. In 2017, a couple in Beveren whose seven-month-old baby died of malnutrition and dehydration was sentenced to a suspended six-month sentence. Doctors blamed the death on the choice by the parents to only feed the infant vegetable plant milk.
Like most developed countries there is ample evidence that many Belgians are cutting their meat consumption (44% according to one survey) and many are eating mostly vegetarian (16%).
The Daily Telegraph sought the response of PETA, which was swift and emphatic. “What a load of ignorant codswallop,” said Dawn Carr. “NHS nutritionists confirm that while a meat- and dairy-based diet is what strikes people down in adulthood – as it can lead to hardened arteries that cause stroke, brain aneurysms, and heart attacks – a well-planned vegan diet is perfect for babies and children.
“Kids, including my own, thrive on a balanced vegan diet, but as with any dietary regime, it’s the parent’s responsibility to ensure their child is getting all the necessary nutrients. And yes, that’s easier to achieve on a vibrant vegan diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and pulses.”
That surely is the point. If anybody were to feed a child a diet solely consisting of white sliced bread and baked beans then that child would eventually suffer. It is not rocket science that a well balanced and planned vegan diet takes time and effort. Nutritional planning is a must for carnivores as well as vegans. A “normal” couple raising a carnivore eating child a relentless diet of Big Macs, french fries and Coca Cola is going to cause that child harm too.
I can think of very few examples which show just how polarising this issue is. It would be interesting to read any document by the Royal Academy to the effect that eating animal products is healthy.
PETA pointed to the American Dietetic Association’s endorsement that a vegan diet is fine for children.