PepsiCo lost claim to Lays potato variety for which it had sued Gujarat farmers

A statutory body has revoked PepsiCo India’s registration certification on a potato variety used to make Lay’s chips, in a major victory for Gujarat farmers who were sued by PepsiCo India two years ago for growing a potato variety used to make Lay’s chips. On Friday, December 3, the plant varieties protection authority PPV&FR revoked the food and beverage giant’s varietal registration certificate for the ‘FL-2027’ potato variety in the country.

PepsiCo responded by stating that it is reviewing the order issued by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPV&FR) Authority. The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001 established PPV&FR as a statutory body.

The authority’s decision came in response to a petition filed by farm activist Kavitha Kuruganti, who claimed that PepsiCo India’s certificate of registration was granted based on inaccurate information provided by the company. She has also claimed that PepsiCo India’s intellectual property right (IPR) on a potato variety was not granted in accordance with registration requirements and was therefore against the public interest.

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Furthermore, the certificate of registration was issued to a person who is ineligible for protection under the Act, and the breeder (PepsiCo) failed to provide the Registrar with the necessary information, documents, and materials, as requested in her petition. Kuruganti’s submission was accepted by PPV&FR, which stated that the certificate of registration was granted based on “incorrect information” provided by the applicant.

“Accordingly, the certificate of registration issued by the Registrar on February 1, 2016 in favour of the Registered Breeder (PepsiCo) in respect of the potato variety with denomination FL 2027 is hereby revoked with immediate effect,” the authority said in a 79-page ruling. PPV&FR also slammed the registrar in its decision, saying that “the registrar, as protector of farmers’ rights, violated the rules, causing hardship to farmers and others.”

“This is completely unacceptable,” it went on to say.

The authority directed the registrar to create a standardised sheet for assessing plant variety registration applications in accordance with the Act, rules, and regulations. “The Registrar may also form a committee and submit a detailed report on how to avoid such incidents in the future,” according to the order.

A PepsiCo spokesperson responded to the news by saying: “We are aware of the PPVFR Authority’s decision and are in the process of reviewing it. As a result, it would be premature to make any detailed observations at this time.”

PepsiCo India had previously used the FL-2027 potato variety certificate to sue farmers in Gujarat in 2018 and 2019.

Kuruganti, in a statement, called the decision “historic” and said it upholds farmers’ seed freedoms under the PPV&FR Act. She claimed that PepsiCo’s action against farmers was based on a non-existent exclusive right that the company claimed to have obtained against Indian farmers.

“This is also stated in the Authority’s decision today. Farmers in India, on the other hand, have unambiguous rights over what seed they can plant and what they can do with their produce from any variety, including seed of registered varieties, according to Indian law “Kuruganti remarked. The only stipulation is that farmers not intentionally sell seed of protected varieties in a branded manner, according to Kuruganti.

“Despite the law being clear, Pepsico India harassed and intimidated farmers in 2018 and 2019,” she said, adding that the company “engaged detectives to entrap farmers and took secret video footage to build its cases.” Kuruganti went on to say that the ruling highlights procedural flaws in the granting of PVCs (plant variety certificates).

“Importantly, through this judgement, farmers’ rights as contained in India’s Act, as well as any attempt to harass and intimidate farmers, have been considered a matter of public interest,” she said.

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