When is cashmere not cashmere? The answer could be supplied by a new breeding programme now underway in China which involves crossing a purebred male cashmere goat with a female black goat traditionally reared in the northen Shanxi region.

According to the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, the hair produced by the new hybrids is comparable with the finest purebred cashmere clips.

The Ministry's technological team teams talk of yields of 5cm length l4.46 micron fibres, with the clip from adult animals averaging out at around 723.8g from males and 430.4g for females.

The first stages of the breeding programme have already produced some 150,000 young animals and the aim is to distribute them through 14 areas with terrain suitable for cashmere rearing.

The question now pending is whether the clip from future generations of hybrids can be labelled as cashmere in the eyes of potential customers outside China.

By Sonia Roberts.