PepsiCo attacks food sovereignty, retracts after global backlash

On 29 April 2019, Multi-billion dollar US conglomerate PepsiCo, the parent company which markets brands like Lays Chips, Pepsi and Tropicana juice sued 9 farmers in Gujarat for intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement. The company slapped Rs. 1.5 crore on each farmer, as damages for growing the FL-2027 potato variety used in its Lays chips. PepsiCo claimed that it has exclusive rights over the crop since 2016 and offered an out of court settlement to the farmers on the condition they buy potato seeds from PepsiCo and sell their produce to PepsiCo alone. The company already has such exclusively binding contracts with 12,000 cultivators in the region.

After pressure from farmers’ organisations and activist groups, PepsiCo global office directed its India arm to withdraw all 4 suits. These IPRs infringe upon Section 39(1) (iv) of the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Act, 2001 which allows all Indian farmers to cultivate any variety that choose, including PVP-registered varieties.

However, these are not the only cases that PepsiCo has been a litigant in to establish its IPR over FL-2027 potato variety. On 13 May 2019, PepsiCo informed a local court in Gujarat that it would withdraw its case filed against Fulchandbhai Kachchawa. Fulchand and his brother have large stakes Tirupati Balaji Chips Potato Private Ltd and Teknofine Foods Private Ltd. Tirupati Balaji Chips Potato Private Ltd is the country’s second largest producer of potato chips. PepsiCo’s had approached the court seeking action against Tirupati Balaji’s  unauthorised harvesting, procurement and supply of FL-2027 variety of potato. Stymying competition from this firm is the primary agenda of PepsiCo’s litigation. Tirupati Balaji, in the last few years has given tough competition to PepsiCo in the potato chips market of Western India, specifically Gujarat. The market share of PepsiCo’s flagship snacks brand Lays almost halved to 4.4 percent in 2017, from more than 8 percent in 2013.

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