EU project fights farm parasites organically
When we think of organic farming, we might think of crops
untreated with pesticides or livestock grown without benefit
- in terms of size at least - of growth hormone. Less often,
however, do we consider how an animal is treated for disease.
Consumers of organic goods expect that the products they buy
come from animals that have been raised free from all synthetic
chemical compounds, and by extension that includes the way
animals are treated for disease. For farming in general, gastrointestinal
nematodes, or roundworms, pose a significant threat to production
in pasture-based systems. The threat can be particularly problematic
for organic farmers. An EU-funded project has investigated
ways of treating worms organically, providing much needed
aid to the burgeoning organic farming industry.
In conventional farming, livestock such as sheep and goats at
risk of contracting parasites are kept in check through the
preventive use of chemical anti-parasiticides; a solution invalid
for organic systems. The EU-funded project WORM Control in Organic
Production Systems, or WORMCOPS, sought a solution to the problem
through the use of bioactive plants or forages.
|Goats raised organically are particularly susceptible to infectious parasites.|
© Andrew van der Esch
WORMCOPS found that plants with naturally high levels of condensed
tannins, the same beneficial compounds found in wine, possess
anti-parasitic activity against common gastrointestinal nematodes
in small ruminants.
In addition to treating infected animals, researchers sought
ways to reduce parasite levels of the fields in which susceptible
animals graze. Specifically, they studied the efficaciousness
of the nematode-destroying fungus Diddingtonia flagrans.
Plot studies and in vitro testing of the fungus showed marked
reductions in worm presence in goats.
Consortium participants also instituted a regime of evasive
grazing. Evasive grazing consists of repeated moves of livestock
to pastures free from harmful parasites. Worms were shown to
be passed from one animal to the next via larvae trapped within
faecal pellets, and not transmitted to the herbage, thus the
need to rotate herds to clean pastures.
As with most complex natural phenomena, the WORMCOPS consortium
did not expect to find a single cure-all, but rather surmised
that the solution lay in a combination of the three approaches.
To ensure the innovative findings were effectively transmitted
to end users, in this case organic farmers, a series of workshops,
newsletters, professional journals, flow charts on parasite
control and meetings with farmers’ associations were conducted.
WORMCOPS was a Key Action 5 project funded under FP5. The project
consortium consisted of eight partners from six European countries
organised by the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University
(DK). The total cost of the project was €2.7 million with
over half coming from DG Research.