Government scientists have developed a device that can detect microscopic bits of manure on beef carcasses in a bid to make meat safer.

The new manure-detection system works by shining a light on the meat, and then highlighting the glow emitted by tiny amounts of chlorophyll, the plant material contained in manure.

The Agriculture Department has licensed the device to Florida-based eMerge Interactive, which has tested prototypes at Oklahoma State University and the University of Florida. Test units will soon be installed in several slaughterhouses operated by an undisclosed packer.

If the trials are successful, commercial units should hit the market by late next year or in 2003, according to officials from eMerge. A royalty of 6% on the sales of the system will go to co-developers, the Agriculture Department and Iowa State University.