The Environmental Protection Agency has said the agri-food sector needs to improve its environmental compliance.

The sector dominates the EPA's list of National Priority Sites for Enforcement, accounting for 11 of the 19 sites.

The EPA's call comes as it publishes its Industrial and Waste Licence Enforcement Report for 2017.

The report gives details of compliance levels and enforcement activities across the 800 facilities licensed by the EPA.

The report shows that more than 1,500 site inspections were completed, 91% of inspections were unannounced and six sites were inspected 20 or more times. Two sites received 49 visits by EPA staff.

Twenty-two prosecutions were concluded in 2017 and over €374,000 in fines and costs were awarded to the EPA.

More than 1,000 complaints were received about licensed facilities, with noise complaints increasing by 68%. Odour complaints dropped significantly, as they were down 42% from 2016 levels.

The food and drink sector had the poorest compliance and the highest number of prosecutions.

Many of the compliance related issues detected by the EPA during 2017 related to the risk of water pollution and while there have been improvements in some areas, the EPA said the issue of water protection remained a key issue.

The report also found that 54% of industrial and waste sites in operation in 2017 were compliant with their licence, which was up from 45% in 2016.

The EPA visited 75% of all operational industrial and waste sites in 2017, which was an increase from 72% in 2016.

EPA Director of the Office of Environmental Enforcement Gerard O'Leary, said: "The EPA targets its enforcement efforts at the most non-compliant facilities.

The publication of the National Priority Sites system last year has driven environmental compliance and seen much needed investment in environmental infrastructure.

"Companies have come off the list in the past year by improving operational practices or making significant investment in infrastructure.

"Sites in the agri-food sector have dominated the list (11 of 19 sites) and compliance in this sector needs to improve."