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UK Politics

Brown 'wrong-headed' over waste, says Tesco boss

The chief executive of Tesco, Sir Terry Leahy, has called Gordon Brown's recent attack on food waste "well-meaning but wrong-headed". In an interview today in The Independent on Sunday, the boss of the £51.8bn supermarket chain dismissed allegations that the company wastes food, encourages binge drinking and is destroying the face of rural England. "We hardly waste anything," Sir Terry said. "Our waste is just 1 per cent. That's not thrown away; it's just sold at a reduced price."

He also expresses disappointment at the Government's advice to firms dealing with Zimbabwe. Initially Tesco said it would maintain its connection with the country, but then pulled out. The Government, he said, had not provided clear guidance. "It gave – very disappointingly – very mixed messages about what was the right thing to do," he said.

Tesco stands accused of directly fuelling the rise in teenage drinking by driving its alcohol prices to new lows, but Sir Terry also took issue with this claim.

"It's impossible for us to manipulate our prices, because in this market if you price up unilaterally, it's commercial suicide. Therefore, the industry would have to do it collectively, but it can't because that would be collusive behaviour," he said. He added that he had told the Prime Minister he would be willing to meet to discuss alcohol pricing.

The man whose relentlessness in business has earned him the title "the Robert Mugabe of Retail" also rejects the idea that his stores are responsible for the demise of rural England and the rise of clone towns. Calling the popularly held opinion "completely bogus analysis", he dismisses it as being based on an image of Britain's past "which never existed".

The man who has also been dubbed "the Godfather of British binge drinking" then turned the criticism on his opponents.

"When people use language like this, attacking modern supermarkets, whether it's about waste or food sourcing, or the high street, or drink, what they are actually attacking is the people using supermarkets," he said.

"The danger is that you end up saying that they're idiots in how they live their lives. And in my experience they are not idiots... and if you go too far down this tack, well, I'm not a politician, but politically it doesn't get you anywhere."