- PepsiCo, the owner of Lay’s potato chips, sued a small group of Indian farmers for growing a potato variety it says belongs to it alone.
- The food and drink giant says it has had exclusive rights to the FL-2027 potato in India since 2016, and it wants four farmers to pay $143,000 each for growing it without permission.
- Dozens of activists and farmers’ unions have written to India’s Ministry of Agriculture condemning the suit and accusing PepsiCo of intimidation.
- After a hearing on Friday, PepsiCo told Business Insider it would “amicably settle” with the farmers and only took legal action “as a last resort.”
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PepsiCo, the $177 billion owner of the potato-chip brand Lay’s, sued a group of farmers in India for growing a variety of potato to which it says it owns the exclusive rights.
The company sought reparations of $143,000 each from four farmers accused of growing the FL-2027 potato, which PepsiCo says it has had exclusive rights to in India since 2016, according to legal documents submitted to a district court in Ahmedabad, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, on April 11 and seen by CNN.
After a hearing in Ahmedabad District Court on Friday, PepsiCo said it had only taken legal action “as a last resort,” adding that it will now seek to “amicably settle” with the farmers involved in the case.
A spokesman for PepsiCo India told Business Insider after the hearing:
“PepsiCo India has proposed to amicably settle with people who were unlawfully using seeds of its registered variety.”
“The company was compelled to take the judicial recourse as a last resort to safeguard the larger interest of thousands of farmers that are engaged with its collaborative potato farming program.
“PepsiCo India remains deeply committed to resolving the matter and ensuring adoption of best farming practices.”
“PepsiCo is India’s largest process grade potato buyer and amongst the first companies to work with thousands of local farmers to grow a specific protected variety of potatoes for it,” a representative told CNN prior to the hearing.
“In this instance, we took judicial recourse against people who were illegally dealing in our registered variety.”
PepsiCo said it has given permission to several hundred Indian farmers to grow the special potato but not to the farmers in the lawsuit.
Two of the farmers involved in the case were named as Fulchand Kachchhawa and Suresh Kachchhawa, both from near the city of Deesa, north of Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
- Hollis Johnson
PepsiCo said the growing of FL-2027 without permission is a rights infringement under Section 64 of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act 2001.
Lawyers, activists, and farmers unions have rallied to the farmers’ defense.
More than 190 activists wrote a joint letter to the Indian Ministry of Agriculture opposing what they called the “false and untenable” lawsuit from the food and drink behemoth, India Today wrote. PepsiCo also owns brands such as Gatorade, Quaker Oats, and of course, Pepsi.
Activists are also raising legal aid to help the farmers fight the case.
One of the signatories, Kapil Shah of the advocacy group Jatan, told CNN that PepsiCo’s actions were “against food sovereignty” and the “sovereignty of the nation.”
“We will fight it out, no matter how big the company,” Shah said. “Pepsi has made a huge mistake.”