Seeds of Doubt

NOW some kind words for the British royal family. Specifically, (surprise!) the Prince of Wales. We're referring to Charles's public campaign against agricultural Eurocrats, waged under the slogan ''Adopt a Veg.'' Yes, ''veg'' as in vegetable, a life form his countrymen have been famed for growing to larger-than-life size and cooking to death.

Eurocrats in Brussels have mounted various assaults on Britain's vegetables, including last summer's directive to halt the customary coloring of mashed peas. But what has caused justifiable indignation from the prince is a long-brewing, botanically dangerous policy of limiting the varieties of seeds that can be marketed to the publics of Europe.

Over the past three decades Europe's agricultural commissioners have sought to bring some order out of chaos by approving national lists of seed varieties. So far, so good. That got rid a lot of confusing duplicative names. But then the national lists were meshed into a ''no others may be sold'' Common Catalogue - a kind of social register of strains guaranteed to be of genetic stability. Trouble loomed.

In the human genus, people who aren't listed in Burke's Peerage or The 400 go on happily living as if nothing untoward had happened to them. But in the world of Brussels Eurocracy (and Brussels sprouts), to be left out of the Common Catalogue means a seed can't be sold to the public without fear of prosecution.

Enter the prince, and a private foundation called the Henry Doubleday Research Foundation, which lends unapproved varieties of seeds, including heirloom strains and possibly endangered varieties, for gardeners to grow. The prince's ''Adopt a Veg'' campaign encourages donors to help fund the foundation's efforts.

We don't want to take a cheap shot at Eurofficials just because Eurocrat all too conveniently rhymes with bureaucrat. After all, trying to adopt uniform standards for a gradually uniting Europe makes sense for highway safety and such matters.

But in this case (as in the ruining of many French cheeses by decreeing mass-production methods), the crats err. The limited seed list, by freezing out botanical diversity old and new, endangers the survival of useful food producers. Prince Charles is right. In fact, the Eurocrats would do well to adopt hundreds of veg themselves. One way to do so: creating a secondary category of approved seeds for home gardeners, plant scientists collecting and hybridizing, and testers of new varieties.

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