Before the elections, members of the current government made sacred claims about how the experts would always have the final say during their term of office. However, it has been shown time and again that this was just spin, and when it comes to the creation of the Strategic Council for Food, things are no different. Namely, the Council has recently proposed that children in kindergartens and schools be offered the option of a plant-based or vegan menu. This proposal has been strongly opposed by paediatricians, with Dr Nataša Bratina, President of the Extended Expert Committee of Paediatrics as the first signatory, pointing out that this decision would not have a positive impact on children’s health but could instead have the opposite effect.
On Tuesday, Nataša Fidler Mis, head of Prime Minister Robert Golob‘s Strategic Council for Food, suggested that the frequency of vegetables, whole-grain cereals and legumes in meals in educational institutions should be at least doubled. In addition to the fact that she said it was important that the guidelines ban “food groups that are harmful to children, such as highly processed foods, high in sugar, salt, saturated fat and/or additives, as well as preparation methods such as boiling and roasting,” the Council proposed, according to the Slovenian Press Agency, to revise the guidelines by introducing two menus: a mixed diet menu and a menu based on plant-based foods.
Vegan diets for toddlers and adolescents are discouraged
The revised menu for kindergartens and schools, which is due to come into force in the coming school year, has been criticised by health experts. The Extended Expert Committee of Paediatrics adopted a decision at its 8th Correspondence Meeting pointing out that the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) guidelines clearly advise against a vegan diet and are very reserved about vegetarian diets. The College also stressed that the composition of the so-called Strategic Council for Food is incompetent and inadequate. Namely, the Council does not include a medical graduate with a medical background in public health, preventive nutrition and/or clinical nutrition. “We are talking about protecting and maintaining the health of Slovenians of all ages, healthy and sick, through an adequate/appropriate diet to meet their metabolic needs. If we do not achieve this, all health problems will be exacerbated (or will develop), and the burden of health damage will be borne by all of us, but most of all by an overburdened healthcare system.”
The profession has been critical of the composition of the Council
Regarding the head of the group, Professor Fidler Mis, the expert panel pointed out that she has a modest scientific bibliography, if any, in the field of clinically relevant adult nutrition. “And the other Council members who are even more interesting are Professor Samo Kreft, who is the founder of a vegan web portal and a pharmacist specialised in the field of PHYTO supplements, and Boštjan Jakše, who is associated with the Herbalife supplement chain, which is also evident from his publications within the field of science. It seems that this ‘Council’ will lead Slovenia into an area of further health damage due to inadequate nutrition and the massive use of food supplements, which are mostly a necessary part of a vegan diet. If individuals do not meet their nutritional needs, all health problems are exacerbated (or develop), and the burden of health damage is borne by all, but most of all by an overburdened healthcare system”, they were critical.
The experts proposed that the field of children and adolescents should be represented by highly qualified candidates who represent the paediatric profession and the interests of children and adolescents. They proposed the principle of appropriate professional and regional representation. “The same should be applied to the adult population, the elderly, pregnant women, and other groups. Moreover, even if we want to adapt the vegan diet to those individuals for whom health damage is less likely with such a diet and taking into account all dietary adaptations (and taking food supplements), we do not have a systemically established clinical nutrition system in Slovenia that allows for appropriate individual adaptation of the diet!” they pointed out.
Dietary reorganisation is not needed
The Prime Minister’s Strategic Council has stated that their guidelines are supposedly based on the opinion of the paediatric profession, but as we can see, this is far from being the case. According to the media outlet N1, the profession is arguing that there is no need to reorganise the current nutrition in kindergartens and schools because it is working well, and they do not believe that the Council has the mandate to review the guidelines that have already been peer-reviewed and endorsed by the Extended Expert Committee of Paediatrics.
Denis Baš, who is the President of the Association of Primary Paediatrics, told the same media outlet that in his career, he has seen cases that ended tragically. “Children have been admitted to hospitals, but they arrived too late. They were paralysed and seriously ill because of their vegan diet.” He has even come across cases of children in vegetarian and vegan families who have been forced to satisfy their need for meat with the help of neighbours or at school.
What is needed, he said, is the realisation that if children are offered healthy food and then do not want to eat it, this has no effect. The children then go to the store or a restaurant to eat unhealthy food. He pointed out that the whole issue also raises the concern that the Council is promoting the vested interests of certain industries. “If you eat only plant-based foods, you can quickly become deficient in certain nutrients, so you need supplements, and of course, you have to buy them. The market for food supplements is not as regulated as the market for medicines,” he warned.
The proposal for a vegan diet under the current government is not surprising to many, as Robert Golob has already made it known before the elections that he is in favour of less meat consumption among the general public. He later spoke about this in front of MEPs in Strasbourg, where he said that we should use less meat and focus more on plant sources – fruit and vegetables. “By doing so, we will help our planet and also the future of our children. So, we will not only teach children how to be healthier, but also how to live,” he said, according to the media outlet 24ur, in a way already foreshadowing that the introduction of a vegan diet will start with the youngest – the children. Although he may have been further influenced in his thinking by his companion, who is a sworn vegan, it would undoubtedly be a good idea to listen to the experts in this case. After all, young people are our greatest wealth, and there should be no room for experimentation here.