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PepsiCo India has lost the rights to its FC5 potato variety, which was developed specifically for Lay's potato chips.
K.V. Prabhu, Chairperson of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Authority (PPVFRA), issued an order in New Delhi on Friday cancelling PepsiCo (India) Holdings Pvt. Ltd's PVP (plant variety protection) certificate for the FC5 potato.
The registration for FC5 was awarded to PepsiCo India despite the fact that it had failed to submit several documents at the time of registration, according to the (PPVFRA) authority. It also noted numerous inconsistencies in the registration process and highlighted the “hardship” this caused to farmers.
The decision came after Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, applied to have the food giant's registration revoked. Soon after the order was passed, Kuruganti tweeted that this would “prevent any other seed or food company from transgressing legally granted farmers’ seed freedoms in India”. Here's why this potato variety is unique, and why PepsiCo's registration with the authority has been revoked.
The FC5 variety, also known as FL2027 in the United States, has a 5% lower moisture content than other types. This cultivar is regarded more ideal for processing and, as a result, for making snacks such as potato chips, because it has a moisture level of 80% rather than the regular 85 percent.
Dr. Robert W. Hoopes, who possesses the most potato patents and potato variety rights in the world, was the first to grow the variety. In 1987, he was hired as a Principle Scientist/Potato Breeder at the Frito-Lay Company (an American subsidiary of PepsiCo) Research Center in the United States.
He then developed disease-resistant, flavor-and-color-advanced potato varieties. Several of his cultivars are grown for PepsiCo’s famous potato chips all around the world.
According to a Quartz report, FL2027 was first registered in the United States in 2005 and was first used commercially in India in 2009. PepsiCo then granted license to certain farmers in Punjab to grow the cultivar. This arrangement enables the firm to purchase all of the produce from these farmers at predetermined prices.
PepsiCo applied for registration of the potato variety in India in June 2011. It was granted in 2016.
PepsiCo sued nine Gujarat farmers in April 2019, accusing them of infringing on its intellectual property rights for growing the same potato variety (IPR). The same year, the New York-based corporation withdrew the claims, stating that it wished to resolve the matter amicably.
Later, Kavitha Kuruganti, a farmer’s rights activist, petitioned the PPVFR Authority to have PepsiCo’s FC5 potato variety’s intellectual protection revoked, claiming that India’s rules prohibit patenting seed varieties. The PPVFR Authority agreed with Kuruganti that PepsiCo could not claim a patent on a seed variety.
We are aware of the order made by the PPVFR Authority and are in the process of assessing it,” a PepsiCo India spokesman said. PepsiCo claims to have produced the FC5 potato variety and registered the variety in 2016.
The company, which started making potato chips in India in 1989, provides the FC5 seed variety to a group of farmers who then sell their produce to the corporation at a fixed price.
Potato farmers in Gujarat hailed the PPVFR Authority’s decision as a victory for growers. “The order is a major victory for Indian farmers, and it supports their freedom to cultivate any crop,” said Bipin Patel, a Gujarat-based farmer who was sued by Pepsi in 2019.