EXAMINER Issue # 51 October 13, 1999
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest
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MONSANTO TERMINATES THE "TERMINATOR"
Responding to what it termed its "very important grower constituency," Robert Shapiro, Monsanto Corporations's CEO has advised Gordon Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation that Monsanto has decided to abandon plans to commercialize "Terminator Technology" (causing crop seed to become sterile at harvest time).
The St. Louis, Missouri headquartered company is the second major "Gene Giant" to back away from Terminator Technology. In June of this year, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity received a letter from United Kingdom-based AstraZeneca announcing that it would not commercialize seed sterility technologies.
"The public unanimously rejected Terminator because its bad for farmers, food security and the environment," explained Pat Mooney, Executive Director of the Rural Advancement Fund International (RAFI) which has led the world-wide fight against the technology. "Congratulations should go to the civil society organizations, farmers, scientists and governments all over the world who have waged highly effective anti-Terminator campaigns during the past 18 months," Mooney added.
"Monsanto would never have abandoned the profit-generating potential of sterile seeds just because it was an immoral technology," said RAFI's Research Director, Hope Shand. "The company finally realized that Terminator will never win public acceptance. Terminator has became synonymous with corporate greed, and it was met with intense opposition all over the world," adds Shand.
While announcing its abandonment of the Terminator seeds Monsanto stressed that it will continue to pursue closely-related research targets that could allow Monsanto to switch on --- or off --- other genetic traits vital to a crop's productivity. RAFI calls it "Traitor" technology.
"In all, more than a dozen companies and public institutes have at least 31 patents that include claims involving seed sterilization," Mooney adds. Monsanto was the big gun, however, and Terminator became a public relations disaster for the company when it made a bid to acquire Delta & Pine Land Seed Company in May, 1998. Delta & Pine Land co-owns the "prototype" Terminator patent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) -- U.S. patent number 5,723,765. In addition, Monsanto holds a second patent, WO 9744465, published 27 November 1997.
Curiously with Monsanto's decision to abandon the commercialization of the Terminator technology the U.S. Department of Agriculture is now in the shameful position of supporting and defending a genetic technology that the world's second largest seed corporation has clearly rejected due to public opposition.
At a meeting with civil society organizations in June, Under-Secretary of Agriculture Richard Rominger told RAFI that USDA refuses to abandon the patent it co-owns with Delta & Pine Land (a Mississippi-based seed company in the process of being acquired by Monsanto) because it wants to see the technology widely licensed.
Unlike Monsanto, "why is USDA ignoring its farm constituency?" asks Shand."Why does USDA insist on defending a technology that is bad for farmers, food security, and the environment? USDA is increasingly marginalized in its support of Terminator, it should immediately cease negotiations with Delta & Pine Land, abandon the patent, and develop a strict policy prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds for the development of genetic seed sterilization," Shand adds.
Gene Giant companies, however, including Monsanto will continue work, warns RAFI, to control important genetic traits of plants with external chemical catalysts. Once perfected, a seed's genetic trait(s) could be turned on or off with the application of a proprietary chemical, such as an herbicide or fertilizer, for example. "The companies tell us that trait control will mean more options for farmers, but chemically-dependent seeds will more likely lead to bioserfdom," warns Shand.
"We can't trust where the technology and companies may be taking us," said Mooney. "The technology for seed sterilization and trait control are on the same trajectory. At some point, either through a corporate take-over or a change in management, trait control could easily be transformed back into genetic seed sterilization."
"Monsanto has taken a positive step, but let's not forget that farmers can never depend on the charity and good will of the Gene Giants to reject immoral technologies. Without government action to firmly reject Terminator and Traitor technology, these technologies will be commercialized within a few years with potentially disastrous consequences," cautions Mooney.
RAFI is a non-profit international civil society organization headquartered in Winnipeg, Canada. For more than twenty years, RAFI has worked on the social and economic impact of new technologies as they impact rural societies.
RAFI's in-depth report on Traitor technology, and a list of
private and public sector institutions who hold Terminator-type
patents, is available at:
Monsanto's open letter to Rockefeller is available on
the company's web site at: http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto/gurt/default.htm
OF GENETIC ENGINEERING
With the approach not only of the coming World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Seattle, Washington at the end of November and the Clinton Administration's efforts to get the world trade body to endorse and promote genetic engineering, but also the concerted promotional effort about to be launched by the corporations that stand to profit from such genetic engineering of our food, New Zealand's Consumers for Education about Genetic Engineering have prepared a helpful 13 myths of genetic engineering.
Myth No. 1: Genetic engineering (GE) is not new. It is just the same as speeded-up selective breeding.
FACT: Genetic engineering (GE) and conventional breeding are worlds apart. Breeding does not manipulate genes; it involves crossing of selected parents of the same or closely related species. In contrast, GE involves extracting selected genes from one organism (e.g. animals, plants, insects, bacteria) and/or viruses, or synthesising copies, and artificially inserting them into another completely different organism (eg. food crops). GE usually employs virus genes to smuggle in and promote the inserted genes, and antibiotic resistance genes to act as markers. All these inserted genes are present in every cell of the plant.
Myth No. 2: Genetic engineering is precise.
FACT: The function of only a small proportion of the DNA in a higher organism is known. Modern genetics has shown that genes do not operate in isolation. Rather they interact in a complicated way, changing their behaviour in response to influences from other genes. Although a gene can be cut out precisely from the DNA of an organism, its insertion into the DNA of another organism is entirely random. This results in the disruption of the order of the genes on the chromosome and may result in random and unexpected changes in the functioning of the cells. Richard Lewontin, Professor of Genetics at Harvard University, has said of GE: "We have such a miserably poor understanding of how the organism develops from its DNA that I would be surprised if we don't get one rude shock after another."
Myth No. 3: GE foods vary from non-GE foods only in the characteristic that has been modified.
FACT: The random insertion of foreign genes into the genetic material may cause unexpected changes in the functioning of other genes. Existing molecules may be manufactured in incorrect quantities, at the wrong times, or new molecules may be produced. GE foods and food products may therefore contain unexpected toxins or allergenic molecules that could harm our health or that of our offspring.
Myth No.4: GE food is extensively tested and the GE food at present on our supermarket shelves is perfectly safe to eat.
FACT: No GE food testing is done in New Zealand. We rely almost entirely on the testing carried out by the GE biotechnology companies that have spent billions of dollars developing the food and intend to make a profit selling it to us. There are serious doubts about the adequacy of the testing and the validity of the conclusions drawn from the results. Independent long-term testing is required before we can be sure that GE food is safe to eat. Another health concern is the possible acceleration of the development of bacterial resistance to antibiotics due to the use of antibiotic resistance genes in the production of GE foods.
Myth No. 5: Genetically engineered food has improved nutritional value.
FACT: No GE food produced to date has been shown to be more nutritious than non-GE food. Most GE crops are only designed to be resistant to specific herbicides, to produce their own insecticides or to have an increased shelf life.
Myth No.6: One can always choose not to eat GE food.
FACT: At present most foods on New Zealand supermarket shelves containing GE ingredients are not labelled, so there is no way of knowing whether we are eating them. GE products are likely to be found in foods containing the following ingredients: Soya flour and oil (in many common foods including breads, sausages, etc.); Lecithin (in chocolate, ice cream etc.); Canola oil and Corn (maize) extracts.
Myth No. 7: Farmers will benefit from growing GE crops.
FACT: Seeds of genetically engineered crops are
more expensive than those of conventional crops. Farmers
in the UK and USA report that yields are generally no better,
the crops are less reliable and overall have not improved profitability.
Non-GE crops now receive a premium and as more countries reject
GE foods, the opportunities to sell GE produce overseas are diminishing.
Because of risks associated with GE crops insurance companies
in the USA and UK are now reluctant to insure them.
Farmers growing GE crops have to sign binding contracts with the biotechnology producers. These commit them to using only the herbicides produced by that company and prohibit them from the traditional practice of saving seed for the next season. Most third world farmers certainly will not benefit.
Myth No.8: GE crops will reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides.
FACT: Crops engineered to be resistant to specific herbicides may encourage more liberal use of those herbicides. This has been anticipated by one manufacturer, who has applied to ANZFA (Australia & New Zealand Food Authority) to have the allowable residue of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup®) in foods sold in New Zealand increased by 200 times. In areas of the USA where crops engineered to produce their own insecticide are grown, pesticide use has not decreased.
Myth No. 9: There is no evidence that GE crops are harmful to the environment.
FACT: Insects, birds and the wind carry genetically altered pollen and seeds into neighbouring fields and far beyond. Cross-pollination occurs between GE crops and non-GE crops and their wild relatives. In this way resistance to weed killer, for example, might be transmitted to weeds making them more difficult to control. There is evidence that crops engineered to produce their own insecticide can kill beneficial insects.
Myth No. 10: GE crops will save the world from famine.
FACT: A major cause of famine is the unequal global distribution of food. Food mountains exist in much of the western world and food is regularly dumped. Poor people have limited ability to buy either GE or non-GE food. There is no evidence that GE crops produce higher yields than conventional crops or that GE products will be cheaper.
Myth No. 11: You can trust the scientists that GE food is good for you and the world.
FACT: The money for scientific research on GE here and overseas comes from either the biotechnology companies or the government. Both are committed to the promises of biotechnology. This means that even when scientists have concerns about the safety or commercial application of the technology, it is often hard for them to risk their careers by being openly critical. One respected scientist in the UK who spoke up about his experimental results showing damaging effects of feeding rats on a type of genetically engineered potato was immediately fired from his job.
Myth No. 12: You can't stop progress.
FACT: No of course we can't; and why would we want to? Progress implies change for the better. Change for the worse is regression. We must be sure that GE products have benefits for the consumer and are safe if they are to be introduced into our foods. We must not commit ourselves to a dubious technology that cannot be reversed.
Myth No. 13: There are more important things to worry about than GE foods.
FACT: Many scientists don't think so.For example Joseph Rotblat, the British physicist who won a 1995 Nobel Prize says: "My worry is that other advances in science may result in other means of mass destruction, maybe more readily available even than nuclear weapons. Genetic engineering is quite a possible area, because of these dreadful developments that are taking place there."
For more information contact:
Consumers for Education about Genetic Engineering
Phone Number 03-489 4020 or 03-476 1345
FRENCH CHEFS, FARMERS DENOUNCE
U.S. TARIFFS, EATING HABITS AND "MCDOMINATION"
Denouncing the inequality of the French restaurant tax code which is 20.6% for classic French restaurants but only 5.5% for fast-food and takeout establishments such as McDonald's, over 1000 Paris protesters, wearing white aprons and classic French tall white chefs hats, engaged riot police Monday in a march to the nation's National Assembly lobbing eggs and assorted vegetables at the police which in turn was answered by volleys of tear gas.
One Brittany chef, coughing and crying as he escaped from the tear gas, the Washington Post's Charles Trueheart reported, spluttered: "See what their answer is? See how much they care about the little guys?"
Arguing that the current tax policy not only subsidizes massive global food businesses and undermines the traditional French restaurateur, the protesting chefs point out that a reduction in the tax to 10% or 12% could create thousands of jobs in the hurting restaurant business.
McDonald's has become the focal point in recent months for the French and its farmers protesting what they term the "McDomination" by U.S. food companies. The champion of their cause has been José Bové, a 46-year-old union leader and sheep farmer from Larzac, an area of southwest France that is one of the country's best-known gastronomic regions.
Since his arrest in August on charges of vandalizing a nearby McDonald's building site he has, according to a recent report by the New York Times Suzanne Daley, become something of a national hero. Bové and his fellow French farmers are protesting what they see as the unfairness of the U.S. decision to impose high tariffs on Roquefort cheese, pate de foie gras and other luxury imported foods in retaliation for the European Union's decision to ban America's hormone-treated beef.
"There have been three totalitarian forces in our lifetime," said Bové, who supplies sheep milk to cheese makers. "The totalitarianism of Fascism, of Communism and now of capitalism. How can people try and tell us that we must import hormone-enhanced beef? What is that?"
But, as Daley writes, "some say that Bové's crusade has tapped into far larger issues gnawing at the French lately, including a general annoyance with the power of the American economy and a nostalgia for a way of life, including long lunches, that is disappearing yet still held in high regard."
Bové has been praised by France's highest officials, including President Jacques Chirac, who has declared that he, too, "detests McDonald's food." Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has compared Bové with other noted leaders who have emerged from grass-roots movements in recent years: "Here again is a strong, vigorous personality," Jospin says admiringly.
It was Bové, who heads a small farmers' union called the Confederation Paysanne, who organized the destruction of the McDonald's in nearby Millau --- using tractors to tear down half the roof --- and who was later put in jail five days shocking both him and the French public.
While the Millau McDonald's recovered and is reported to be doing a brisk business the community of Millau is awash in pro-Bové graffiti. "End McDomination" and "Free Bové" are scrawled throughout the area. Yet, every year, new McDonald's franchises are opening throughout France.
Bové claimed his moment of fame when he refused to be freed on bail, a stand that lasted only three weeks. He said his actions had been carefully planned and announced in the paper the day before. "There was nothing menacing about it," he said. "The children were there. There was singing. It had a festival atmosphere."
Bové told the Times' Daley that he favors a rhyming slogan that uses the French nickname for McDonald's: "McDo Dehors, Gardons le Roquefort" (McDonald's Get Out, Let's Keep the Roquefort). That is what he painted on the McDonald's construction site on Aug. 12.
While he stresses that he likes Americans his contempt for
American food habits is also obvious, reports Daley, as he offers
statistics on the rate of obesity in America --- about three times
that of the French --- and he also disdains Americans for eating
all day long. He says America has no right to force its hormone-enhanced
food down French throats. Bové plans to bring his outrage
at the luxury-food tariffs to Seattle in November, when the World
Trade Organization, who authorized the U.S. tariffs, is expected
to meet there and consider the issue again.
CALIFORNIA EATING HABITS:
DID SOMEBODY SAY POOR DIET?
Despite being the nation's richest agricultural state, a poor diet is the norm in California, with few signs of improvement in the last decade, according to a survey by the State Department of Health Services which has been conducting a dietary study by telephone of more than 1,000 Californians every other year since 1989.
The survey also found that the poorer and less educated residents of the state --- who make up a growing portion of Californias population --- are the least healthful eaters."It's not good news," professor Gail Harrison, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, told the Los Angeles Times' Amy Pyle. "We're talking about risk of cancer . . . risk of heart disease."
Emphasizing five key nutrition recommendations --- daily doses of fruits and vegetables; whole grain breads, tortillas and cereals; reduced fat milk; lean meat or other protein; and one serving of beans every other day ---the survey found that Californians on average met just three of the five nutritional recommendations, worse than in the past.
The study suggests, Pyle reports, that is partly because Californians opt for fast food over other restaurant fare half the time, up from a third in 1989 and while people generally are eating out less, young adults and those with no high school diploma eat out more and are the most likely to eat fast food --- typically high in fat, salt and sugar and while they are loath to eat their peas and carrots, spinach and broccoli.
Fast food does not cause obesity, said Judith Stern, a professor of nutrition and internal medicine at University of California-Davis. But it does fall short in the vegetable department --- a slice of pickle on a burger does not count --- and the portions tend to be too large. "With super sizing and super, super sizing, you end up eating more," Stern said. Even if you do not finish it all, "it reinforces that that is the right portion size."
In addition to a poor diet the survey also found that a fifth of Californians engaged in no exercise, compared with a quarter of all Americans, the study found with the least educated being the least active in their leisure time, although the survey authors allowed that may be because their work requires more physical exertion.
This combination of poor diet and little exercise left the state's residents fatter than ever. Nearly 29% reported being overweight, compared with fewer than 20% in 1984. New leaner federal weight standards could further inflate those numbers.
Education and socioeconomic status far overshadowed ethnicity as a factor in healthful eating habits. African Americans continued to be the least healthful eaters--rarely cutting fat off their meat or skin off their chicken and opting for deep fried foods more often than any other group.
Between whites and Latinos there was little difference in nutrition, largely because Latinos scored high for including beans and high-fiber corn tortillas in their diets. Latinos showed the most improvement of any group in the eight-year study, but still ate significantly more beef--more than twice a week--than any other group. Whites had their own mealtime weakness, being the most likely to indulge in sweets, including breakfast pastries, desserts and ice cream.
According to the survey, those who confessed to eating poorly tended to blame old habits, television ads that seduce them and the scarcity of healthful restaurant food. While the state has sought to wage campaigns to increase awareness of links between diet and heart disease or cancer, researchers called for more education and released the survey to coincide with a new series of public service announcements promoting healthful eating and exercise.
Desiree Backman, state director of nutrition marketing, told
Pyle that one difficulty has been inadequate funding to blanket
the entire state. California currently spends about $16 million
on nutrition education, compared with about $55 million on tobacco
"YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT"
RECLASSIFIED AS OLD-FASHIONED THINKING?
"We're losing our sense of meaning in food. It's something to be consumed and little more. Joy is lost when we simply equate value with cost. We complain about tasteless fruit, but we want it to be inexpensive and cosmetically clean. The produce department remains of the few parts of the marketplace where choices are impacted by a few pennies. We support the cheapest product and gamble on satisfaction. We've detached ourselves from our food; it is no longer personal. We want our meals faster and easier; our goal is to spend little time eating. We promote convenience and speed, equating it with quality and value. We are willing to spend billions on diets, nutritional supplements and exercise gyms instead of simply eating right. We've managed to overlook the notion `you are what you eat' and reclassify it as old-fashioned thinking. Food is not a player in our information age."
--- Mas Masumoto, California family farmer, USA Today,
December 9, 1992
NATURAL AND ORGANIC FOOD STORES
"A GROWING FORCE IN AN EXPANDING AGE?"
In a telling move, not unlike what the nation saw several decades ago when the huge supermarket changes began to absorb the neighborhood mom n' pop grocery stores, the Texas-based chain Whole Foods Market, which bills itself as the nation's largest natural and organic foods supermarket is rapidly expanding.
With the announcement recently of its opening of a 50,000 square feet store in Seattle, Washington Whole Foods Market will be a direct challenge to Seattle's Puget Consumers Co-operative, the largest retail grocery co-op in the nation, which also specializes in natural and organic foods.
"Folks who have traditionally shopped a little bit at the gourmet stores, a little bit at the co-op and a little bit at Pike Place (Market) are going to have it all under one roof and without having to check the labels for artificial ingredients," claims Ron Megahan, the store's team leader.
The store, which is expected to employ about 150 workers, will feature more than 20,000 items of homemade meals, entrees, organic produce, French pastries, freshly baked breads, brick oven pizzas, sushi, rotisserie-grilled meats, gourmet and specialty ethnic foods, the company said. All of the items will be "natural" and in many cases "organic," the fastest-growing segment of the food industry.
Whole Foods Market, founded 19 years ago, has its headquarters in Austin, Texas, employs more than 15,000 workers with nearly 100 neighborhood-based stores in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and is considered the largest retailer of natural and organic foods in the nation.
"Whole Foods is coming into this market in a very aggressive way,"Jeff Voltz, chief executive officer of Puget Consumers Co-op told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Arthur C. Gorlick. "Their store will be within two miles of four of our stores -- the stores in Ravenna, View Ridge, Green Lake and Fremont." (Seattle neighborhoods)
The co-op, or PCC, took its staff members to visit Whole Foods Market stores in California, Chicago and Colorado "to study how they operate, because that is the way the game is played," Voltz said. "I think they will make us a better operation. We continue to expand --- our new Issaquah store opens November 12 --- and we will continue to upgrade all of our stores."
PCC, incorporated in 1961 as a food-buying cooperative, opened
its first store in 1970 and has eight stores and 40,000 members.
"Ultimately, consumers will benefit," Voltz said. "Whatever
increases public awareness of organic foods will help put more
land into agricultural production."
MEXICAN BRACEROS SEEK $150 MILLION
IN "WORK TAX" DEDUCTIONS FOR U.S. AGRICULTURAL LABOR
Between 1942 and 1964 nearly five million Mexicans harvested U.S. crops mostly in California, Texas and other Southwestern states.
It was immediately after the beginning of World War II that California agribusiness interests, pleading a domestic labor shortage, sought to make it possible for more Mexican farm laborers to enter the U.S. After Mexico declared war on the Axis powers the U.S. and Mexico entered into such an "executive agreement" which was ratified by only an exchange of diplomatic notes in August, 1942.
The provisions of the agreement included: Mexican workers were not to be used to displace domestic workers but only fill proved shortages; recruits were to be exempted from military service and discrimination against them was not to be permitted; the round trip expenses of the worker were guaranteed, as well as living expenses en route; hiring was to be done on the basis of a written contract between the worker and his employer and the work was to be exclusively in agriculture.
These braceros (literally "arms," the Hispanic equivalent of the Anglo word "hand," meaning a laborer available for hire), were free to buy merchandise in places of their own choosing. Housing and sanitary conditions were to be adequate. Work was guaranteed for three-quarters of the duration of the contract and wages were to be equal to those prevailing in the area of employment, but in any case not less than 30 cents per hour. Deductions amounting to ten percent of earnings were authorized for deposit in a savings fund payable to the worker on his return to Mexico.
As Ernesto Galarza in his epic account, Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story, recounts what followed in the some 21 years of the bracero program is one of the more shameful chapters of American agriculture and U.S. history where laws were blatantly abused and the program was extended far beyond the purpose for which it was created by corporate agribusiness interests interested solely in maintaining a cheap labor market.
The legacy of that shame again came to public attention recently when those Mexican braceros still alive failed in their first attempt to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. Farm Security Administration withheld from them and deposited in the Farmworker Savings Program in Mexican farm banks. Mexican farm-bank officials acknowledge the money was sent to them but said there are no records to account for it.
"We can't give back money that is not deposited with us," said Alejandro Romero, head of Banrural's legal department. "For an individual to receive money, he must first prove ownership of an account."
Ventura Gutierrez, a California-based farm-worker advocate, says his group will exhaust the Mexican legal and political system before turning to U.S. lawmakers for help. Most braceros --- poor farmers with little education --- simply forgot or thought the deduction was a work tax and never claimed it.
Activists representing 20,000 ex-braceros or their families also say they will seek help from Mexican legislators to recoup the money due them, estimated to be at least $150 million (including interest), according to them. Organizations representing migrant workers first began looking into the savings fund about a decade ago when elderly ex-braceros came across now-yellowed pay stubs that recorded the ten percent deductions.
Galarza points out that a Presidential Commission on Migratory Labor in 1951 noted that "in effect the negotiation of the Mexican International Agreement is collective bargaining in which the Mexican Government is the representative of the workers and the [U.S.] Department of State is the representative of our farm employers."
Finally, weary of such informal agreements during the war years the Mexican government insisted in the early 1950's that any further contracting of Mexican labor must be done under the supervision of the U.S. government. Such action was taken under what was know as Public Law 78. The declared purpose of the law, enacted on July 12, 1951, was to assist "in such production of agricultural commodities and the products as the Secretary of Agriculture deems necessary, by supplying agricultural workers from the Republic of Mexico."
It authorized the Secretary of Labor to recruit such workers, established and operate reception centers, provide transportation, finance subsistence and medical care in transit, assist workers and employers in negotiating contracts and guarantee the performance by employers of such contracts. The law also established the policy of the Federal Employment Service "to provide for the recruitment of workers for employment in the U.S. . . . only when such recruitment is in accordance with provisions of an agreement between the U.S. and a foreign government."
But, as Galaraz showed, Public Law 78 simply allowed agribusiness to mold the law to its own purpose, controlling how many braceros it used, how it distributed them geographically and by crops, the economic uses to which they were put, the ways in which the contract labor pool was manipulated, and the administrative procedures that were devise to insure, from the industry's point of view, an almost ideal cheap, subservient and government sponsored labor market.
Today more than two million braceros, who spent years
performing back-breaking labor for U.S. agricultural companies
from 1942 to 1964, now find themselves well past retirement age
and back where they started before crossing the border: no pension
plan, no social security, no money.
A TRILLION HERE, A TRILLION THERE
PRETTY SOON WE'RE TALKING REAL MONEY
Corporations "urge to merge" --- specifically in Europe --- has chalked up a staggering $2.2 trillion record in the first nine months of 1999, according to data compiled by Thomson Financial Securities Data.
Mergers and acquisition activity around the world in the first three quarters jumped 16%, far outdistancing the $1.93 trillion recorded in the same period last year. Of this year's volume, $780.9 billion of merger activity occurred in the third quarter, a 46% gain from the $535 billion in merger business booked in the year-ago quarter.
Only 42% of the quarter's announced-deal volume arose from U.S. targets compared to 48% for targets based in Europe, according to Thomson Financial, as four of the five largest deals announced in the past quarter involved European targets.
"If you look at the largest deals by size in Europe this year a lot of them have been hostile," Scott Miller, a lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell in London observed to Dow Jones Newswires Anita Raghavan. Miller says companies increasingly are willing to make an unfriendly overture in a bid to expand nationally because they realize "it's only a matter of time before these national companies risk being marginalized on a European basis."
While U.S. merger volume slumped 10% in the third quarter to $322 billion, European acquisition activity more than tripled to $374.6 billion from $100.7 billion a year earlier, according to Thomson Financial. In the first nine months of 1998, deals involving European targets accounted for about 21% of total M&A volume compared to 67% for U.S. targets, but a year later, that gap narrowed as the European deals represent about 36% of deal volume while the U.S. proportion has slipped to 52%.
Don Meltzer, head of European mergers and acquisitions at Credit Suisse First Boston, told Raghavan, "the explosion in contested M&A activity in Europe has propelled the global M&A market." Meltzer expects European merger activity to continue to flourish for as European companies emerge as national champions, he expects they will move to become pan-European champions so that they can better compete with leaders in their industry.
Goldman, Sachs & Co. was the top-ranked world-wide merger banker in the first nine months of this year, advising on nearly $800 billion of mergers and acquisitions to capture 35.7% of the market.