Asda has been forced into the embarrassing U-turn of withdrawing its environmentally friendly vacuum-packed meat packaging less than a year after launching it.

The supermarket rolled out the packs last Autumn on its beef steaks and joints, proclaiming that the new format would reduce waste and save transport costs in line with its environmental commitments.

However, Asda has now pulled the packaging and reverted to the previous system. "Some of our technical guys found issues with microbial growth growing anaerobically in vacuum packs," said Julian Walker-Palin, Asda's head of corporate policy for sustainability.

The technical team was now working on eradicating the problem to see how the packs could be used in future, he added.

Walker-Palin stressed there were no health concerns for those who had eaten beef from vac packs, but admitted there had been problems achieving the same shelf life as previous packaging. Shoppers had not liked the packs, he added. "We've temporarily halted this because customers didn't accept the new packs. Maybe it was because people were not as close to the meat as they wanted to be."

The problem was "not insurmountable" and Asda would make modifications before trying again, he added. A relaunch could involve consumer education about the packs' benefits.

"We are absolutely not taking a backward step in our environmental promises but sometimes it is necessary to stop and evaluate rather than blindly push on. With hindsight it looks like we should have taken more time to talk to our customers on the benefits of vac packs."

The vacuum-packed system had been trumpeted as a major advance in meat retailing. The skintight packaging film closely profiles the shape of the meat, significantly cutting down on the amount of packaging.

Asda's environmental policy has already yielded a 25% reduction in packaging, with 92% of all packs now recyclable.