PepsiCo versus Potato Farmers – The battle of Potato

Last Updated at: Jul 14, 2020
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PepsiCo versus Potato Farmers – The battle for potatoes
PepsiCo claims Plant Variety Protection rights to the FC5 potato variety under a 2001 law; it says the farmers are violating them. It has sued four of them for Rs 1 crore each, and the five others for Rs 20 lakh each. “Pepsi’s decision to take Gujarat’s potato grower farmers to court is ill-advised and brazenly wrong.”

 

On 30th April 2020, PepsiCo said that it would withdraw the cases filed earlier against potato farmers in Gujarat. They said it was an attempt to find out an amicable and long-term solution, through fruitful discussions with the Government.

 

Who would’ve ever thought that a US-based billion-dollar company would be fighting with Indian farmers for growing potatoes, the most common, ordinary and inescapable vegetable on our plates, Potatoes? In this post, we highlight the dynamics that led to the suit filing, its legality and why PepsiCo withdrew the lawsuit.

PepsiCo’s exclusive claim over its chip-making potatoes

We know when it comes to Lays, you can’t have just one. But to make potatoes to feed a world population that sometimes replaces meals with potato chips, you’ve got to have a steady supply of potatoes. And the potatoes Lays claims to use aren’t just ordinary aloos that we cook. They’re fancy and patented – The FC5 kind of potatoes. The special qualities as describe in Lays’ patent claim while raw potato contains 79% water, its patented FC5 variety of potatoes has significantly lesser water content, making them ideal for chips and they also last longer in storage, without rotting or developing bacteria.

The Potato Farmers in India

PepsiCo on discovering that some Indian farmers were growing its patented FC5 potatoes, first filed a lawsuit in court in Ahmedabad in April and requested the court to restrain the four farmers from growing the FC5 potato variant. Additionally, it sued the farmers for Rs 1 crore each after alleging that they were violating laws. It later gave them an option to either sell their entire production to the company or stop growing this variety immediately.

PepsiCo’s claim under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers ’ Rights Act, 2001. The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act aims to provide for the establishment of an effective system for the protection of plant varieties, the rights of farmers and plant breeders and to encourage the development of new varieties of plants. PepsiCo’s claim stems from its certificate of registration under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001 which grants an exclusive right on the breeder or his successor, his agent or licensee, to produce, sell, market, distribute, import or export the variety. However, with overarching narratives of protection of farmers present in the act, it is contentious whether PepsiCo’s claim would’ve succeeded. The Act embodying farmer rights gives protection of innocent infringement to farmers— a right established under this Act shall not be deemed to be infringed by a farmer who at the time of such infringement was not aware of the existence of such right. The registration under this act can also be revoked at a later date if it is not found in public interest.

Talk to Our Legal Experts

Biopiracy and Genetically Modified Crops in India

The Indian Patent laws currently provide that plants including seeds, varieties and species and essentially biological processes for production or propagation of plants and animals are not patentable. The Indian Patent Act also points out that the primary or intended use or commercial exploitation of which could be contrary to the public order or morality or which causes serious prejudice to human, animal or plant life or health or to the environment is also not patentable. The patent further needs to have characteristics of an ‘inventive step’, which means a new addition or novel feature. India, as a developing nation is still struggling to find conclusiveness regarding the health hazards or benefits associated with genetically modified crops. While BT Cotton, being an inedible crop is out of the purview, BT Brinjal ban in India continues to be a subject of discussion among scientists, government and consumers.

While PepsiCo is said to have withdrawn the case under pressure from the society and probably, the apprehension of loss of public image in India, it does raise several important questions. Pertinent issues regarding the validity of US seed-patents in India, which currently the Indian laws are sceptical of upholding, as it can severely affect farmer’s rights to seeds and livelihood and the larger public issue of monitoring modified plant varieties are the need of the hour.

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Avani Mishra is a graduate in law from the National Law Institute University, Bhopal. She qualified the Company Secretary course with an All India Rank 1 and is a recipient of the President’s Gold Medal for her academic distinctions. She also holds a B.Com degree with a specialization in Corporate Affairs and Administration.