Scientists say adding high levels of a special enzyme to chick feed could save the industry millions of pounds each year.

A study by Nottingham Trent University found that adding high levels of phytase to rapeseed meal could create a cheap, home-grown protein source.

They say the alternative chick feed is just as nutritious for broiler chicks as soya bean, which is widely used, more expensive and imported from the USA.

Rapeseed meal is about £100/t cheaper than soya bean, but contains higher levels of anti-nutritional factors, which can reduce bird health and performance.

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But scientists found that increasing levels of phytase in rapeseed significantly reduces this problem.

Natalie Morgan, who is based in the university’s poultry unit, said: “The UK poultry industry produces over 850 million broilers a year, which are fed approximately 1,300t of broiler feed, so our findings could have a big economic consequence.

“By adding high levels of phytase into poultry diets can make a poor quality, cheaper protein source produced in the UK, provide the same nutritional value as a widely used, more expensive protein source imported from USA for poultry.”