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Pepsi sues Indian farmers for growing potatoes it use in Lays chips

New York: PepsiCo has sued four farmers in India for growing potatoes variety it is using for Lays potato chips.

In the Indian state of Gujarat, the company’s subsidiary filed the lawsuit against the farmers.

The company says the farmers are growing a variety of potatoes registered by the company for exclusive use in its Lays potato chips.

According to a report carried by CNN, PepsiCo (PEP) says the farmers being sued are not among the thousands it has authorized to grow the protected potato variety.

But farmer unions and activists are fighting back against the food and beverage maker, marking the latest battle in India between local businesses and big global players. Small Indian retailers have been protesting against companies like Walmart (WMT) and Amazon (AMZN) — claiming the American retailers are unfairly destroying their business — and even succeeded in getting the government to put in some restrictions.

PepsiCo, which owns brands like Pepsi, Lays, Gatorade and Quaker Oats,  has sought the court to order each of the four farmers it sued to pay 10 million Indian rupees ($143,000) in damages to the company.

“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,” an India-based company spokesperson told CNN Business on Thursday.

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

The spokesperson did not comment on the damages the company is seeking.

Farmers’ associations and activists in India called on the Indian government to step in and take action against PepsiCo. In a letter to the government published earlier this week they said the farmers’ rights to grow and sell registered crops are protected under India’s agricultural laws.

“We believe that the intimidation and legal harassment of farmers is happening because farmers are not fully aware of [their] rights,” the letter said. The letter also claims PepsiCo sent private detectives to the accused farmers posing as potential buyers, secretly recording video of them and taking samples of the potatoes.

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