Farmers in south Kerry say they are experiencing the worst outbreak of bovine TB in living memory.

Over 75 herds on the Iveragh Peninsula have tested positive for TB in the twelve months up to Christmas.

It is understood that a further ten herds have been 'locked up', due to a failed test on their farm or a neighbouring farm, in the last fortnight.

More than 150 farmers have attended an emergency meeting in Cahersiveen today. Organised by the local branch of the IFA, senior vets from the Department of Agriculture gave an overview of the current situation on the peninsula and outlined a plan of action to tackle the outbreak.

It is believed that herd-to-herd contact and transmission by badgers are the significant contributing factors in the spread of TB in the area.

Where badgers are identified as the source they will captured and removed.

However, officials pointed out that the badger is a protected species and any cull must be carried out in line with existing guidelines.

Some farmers believe roaming wild deer may be transmitting the disease, but officials said this was highly unlikely.

The Department of Agriculture said it was actively tackling the outbreak through a rigorous testing programme and is asking farmers to prevent contact between herds and with the disinfecting of farm buildings.  

Local councillor Johnny Healy-Rae said it was vital that the Department of Agriculture office in Kerry is given all the resources required to tackle the outbreak.  

Mr Healy-Rae said: "This is a crisis. I'm calling on the Department and the Minister to give our local office all the resources it needs to catch the badgers or the deer, or whatever is causing this problem. This could be a wipe-out."

Mike O'Sullivan is one of the many farmers currently 'locked up', with a complete ban on the movement of cattle in or out of his holding.

He has had 69 reactors to TB tests. The infected cows and calves will now be removed from the farm and slaughtered.

Mr O’Sullivan said: "There's a serious amount of stress involved and we don't know what's around the corner. I've a man here washing down the sheds. We're doing everything in our power to eradicate it."