• Chickens are seen at a poultry farm in Yuncheng, China, on April 18, 2013.

Chickens are seen at a poultry farm in Yuncheng, China, on April 18, 2013. (Photo : Getty Images)

China's Shandong Yisheng Livestock & Poultry Breeding Co will import vital broiler breeding stock from France's Hubbard to counter its first shortfall in chicken meat production in over 10 years.

The three-year contract between Shandong Yisheng and Hubbard, a unit of genetics company Groupe Grimaud, is worth nearly 72 million yuan or $10.4 million.

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The chickens to be imported to China are classified as "great-grandparent" or the offspring of pedigree lines, which can produce another generation of breeding birds, unlike grandparent stock.

Previously, only "grandparent" stock are sold by foreign genetics companies to Chinese breeders. The foreign firms have been reluctant to sell great-grandparent birds out of concern on how the genetics will be managed.

Li Jinghui, managing director of the China Poultry Association, said the development could eventually allow China to regenerate its chicken flock just in case imports of breeding stock are completely stopped.

China has been unsuccessful in creating its own broiler breeds, which remains a key priority for their poultry industry.

Currently, all foreign companies that breed chicken pedigree stock or "pure line," which in turn produces the great-grandparent generation, are investing heavily in genome research.

China, the world's second-largest poultry market, imports all the breeding stock for its white-feathered broiler chickens but has banned poultry shipments from a number of countries in the wake of global bird flu outbreaks.