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Headlines Published on 12 January 2007

Title 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.

Goats raised organically are particularly susceptible to infectious parasites. © Andrew van der Esch
Goats raised organically are particularly susceptible to infectious parasites.
© Andrew van der Esch
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.

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.

More information:

  • WORMCOPS homepage
  • EU-AgriNet

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