The United Kingdom will send its largest shipment of pig semen to China this month, as the latter looks to improve the genetics of its domestic herd.
Dozens of major pig farmers in China will look to strengthen their stock using semen from pigs bred at the Deerpark Pedigree Pigs artificial insemination facility in Northern Ireland.
The order, for 2,000 samples, is worth 200,000 pounds (1,000) and is the largest since the UK won the right to export pig semen to China during a trade mission in 2013 led by then-prime minister David Cameron.
In November, two companies in Northern Ireland gained approval to export pig trotters to China in a deal that could generate an estimated 20 million pounds a year for UK farmers. Pigs' trotters are not widely eaten in the UK, but are considered a delicacy in China.
China accounts for half of all global pork consumption. And as its pork imports continue to grow, at an annual rate of 150 percent since 2007 China is restructuring and investing in its pig sector to boost domestic supply.
"A lot of Chinese companies are looking toward the UK and Northern Ireland to see how they can benefit from our expertise and improve their overall food security," said Nigel Overend, co-owner of Deerpark.
The company has exported two smaller shipments to China during the last 18 months.
Deerpark also provides Chinese pig farmers with technical instruction in thawing and preparing the frozen semen for insemination.
Pig farmers prefer an animal with a good feed conversion rate, which is a measure of how efficiently they convert food into flesh. Other desirable traits include resistance to disease, and sows that produce large litters of robust piglets that can withstand adverse conditions.
Zhao Jianguo, a researcher in agricultural genetics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said continued innovation in the pork industry in China is crucial because it is the country's most widely consumed meat.
"China is spending a lot of money trying to improve the efficiency of its pig industry," Zhao said.