Now more than any time since they have had a choice, people want responsibly produced food from local producers.

Problem is our food system remains stubbornly oriented toward large-scale producers. Policies designed to create an abundance of cheap food have tilted the marketplace in favor of industrial agriculture. As a result, making it as a local farmer is often harder than it needs to be.

That’s certainly true in the case of small-scale meat and poultry farmers, who because of federal regulations face high costs and unnecessary restrictions when they try to sell their products.

A proposal, backed by Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree and now before Congress, would repeal those regulations.

It’s just the kind of action that is necessary for the local food movement to truly thrive, in Maine and elsewhere.

The legislation, known as the PRIME Act (for Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption), would allow states to set their own regulations governing the sale of meat and poultry, a right they haven’t had since 1967.

Now, in order for meat to be sold, it must be processed at a slaughter facility inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or by state inspectors using the same standards.

But USDA-inspected plants are expensive to establish and maintain, and over the years, that expense has closed smaller facilities. Now that demand for local meat is rising, many small-scale producers don’t have a processing facility nearby.

In Maine, there are five USDA-inspected and eight state-inspected sites. Together, there is not enough capacity to serve local farmers.

That has forced farmers to take on the great expense of trucking their chicken, pigs and cattle to far-off facilities, where there are often high processing costs.

For a sector of the market that prides – and sells – itself on being locally produced and environmentally friendly, that is damaging. For a small business that survives on slim margins, it is infeasible.

The PRIME Act, however, would allow Maine to give farmers the right to sell to residents, restaurants and stores meat that has been processed at what are known as custom facilities – slaughterhouses that are licensed and regularly inspected, but which unlike USDA-inspected facilities do not have a USDA inspector onsite at all times.

That lower standard worries some food safety advocates. However, farmers are already allowed to sell larger cuts of meat processed at custom facilities by selling “shares” of an animal, so it’s hard to see a difference between that and selling smaller cuts on a larger scale.

And there are far more concerns about the large-scale farmers and facilities that now supply the vast majority of American meat and poultry. Housing so many animals together – often in inhumane conditions – and forcing them through fast-moving production lines is far more likely to lead to contamination.

What’s more, contamination in a small, custom facility can easily be closed off, and would affect few customers. From a large-scale facility, that contamination could spread all over the country.

That’s just one argument to support local food production and processing. There are many more. Congress should take them all to heart, and pass the PRIME Act.