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Owner of Lay's chips sues farmers over exclusive potato rights

Business Insider logo Business Insider 4/26/2019 Bill Bostock

PepsiCo, the $177 billion owner of potato chip brand Lay's, has sued a group of farmers in India for growing a variety of potato they say they own the exclusive rights to.

The company is seeking 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, Gujarat, on April 11, and seen by CNN.

"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 spokesperson told CNN. 

"In this instance, we took judicial recourse against people who were illegally dealing in our registered variety."

PepsiCo says it's given permission to several hundred Indian farmers to grow the special potato before, but not to the farmers in the lawsuit.

Two of the farmers are named as Fulchand Kachchhawa and Suresh Kachchhawa, both from near the city of Deesa, in the northwestern region of Gujarat. 

PepsiCo say 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.

Read more: A giant potato in Idaho has been turned into an Airbnb, and you can rent it for $200 a night

Lawyers, activists, and farmers unions have rallied to the farmers' defence.

More than 190 activists penned a joint letter to the Indian Department of Agriculture opposing 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 advocacy group Jatan, told CNN 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."

The case will be heard in Ahmedabad district court on Friday.

Related video: Lay's has released new flavors inspired by the regional foods of the US (provided by Insider)

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PepsiCo did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

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