Belgian doctors say parents forcing veganism on children should be criminal

Doctors with the Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium published a legal opinion stating it is was unethical to subject children to a vegan diet because it does not include animal proteins and vital amino acids which are vital to growth and development and prevents health problems. After a number of deaths in schools, nurseries, and hospitals, the opinion aims to influence future court judgments by calling for parents who raise their children as vegans to face prosecution. This is the first time a health authority has taken a position on veganism in the country. An estimated 3 percent of Belgian children are forced to follow the strict diet, which rules out any animal products, including dairy and eggs.

The Academy’s opinion was published following a request by Bernard Devos, a regional government official responsible for children’s rights and protection in Brussels and the French-speaking region of Wallonia. Mr. Devos asked for the opinion after children suffered health complications, including a number of deaths, in schools, nurseries and hospitals. The opinion will allow him to more easily enforce the separation of a child from parents who insisted the youngster followed the restrictive diet. 

Professor Georges Casimir, who led the commission that wrote the report, said the vegan diet could only be made safe for growing children if complemented with medical supervision, regular blood tests and vitamin supplements, which most parents were not qualified to provide, and “We must explain to the parents before compelling them, but we can no longer tolerate this endangerment.”

"This restrictive regime requires ongoing monitoring of children to avoid deficiencies and often irreversible growth delays," the legal opinion said, "It is unsuitable for unborn children, children, teenagers and pregnant and lactating women." Additionally, "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,” and “This concept of nutrition is similar to a form of treatment that it is not ethical to impose on children.

Professor Casimir warned that such a strict regime would now legally qualify as “non-assistance to a person in danger”, a crime which carries a sentence of up to two years and fines in Belgium. The pediatrician said, “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 anemia. Some developments must be done at a specific time in life and if they are not done, it is irreversible.”

In 2017, a couple from Beveren, Belgium were sentenced to a suspended six month sentence after their seven-month-old baby died of malnutrition and dehydration. The infant’s death was blamed by doctors on the parents’ choice to only feed it vegetable milk.

A survey published last year found that 44 percent of Belgians had cut their meat consumption, despite the country’s fondness for Flemish beef stew and frites cooked in beef, horse or goose fat. 16 percent of Belgians said they eat mostly vegetarian.  The reflects the trend across Europe, as concerns over climate change and animal welfare grow.