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A sign posted at Sweet Cakes Bakery in Peace Dale urges people to boycott a company that uses battery cages.

Police have told representatives from The Humane Society of the United States they can not enter the South Kingstown Farmers Market at Marina Park in Wakefield to distribute animal rights information and petitions. They can, however, distribute materials in nearby parking areas. Marina Park is town-owned, the farmers market rents space there seasonally for its Tuesday evening market.

On Aug. 4, Kenny Torella, a representative of The Humane Society, contacted police, alleging Patricia Gardiner, co-manager of the farmers market, told him to leave Marina Park while he was handing out leaflets. Torella questioned Gardiner’s authority to make such a request, according to police reports. Torella was distributing political postcards against Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37) of South Kingstown and Block Island.

The Humane Society of the United States has targeted Sosnowski in full-page ads in Independent Newspapers and The Block Island Times alleging she blocked bills restricting the use of chicken battery cages and banning the sale of shark fins. On its Facebook page, it regularly calls for supporters to call Sosnowski, who is a farmer by trade, to protest her lack of action with these bills.

There was no sign of the group at Saturday’s South Kingstown Farmers Market at East Farm in Kingston, according to Steve Gardiner, co-manager.

“The representatives from the farmers market maintained that the representatives from The Humane Society were bothering customers and inhibiting their movement from the parking lot to the grassy area, while harming their business,” wrote South Kingstown Police Sergeant Montafix Houghton in an Aug. 4 police report. “The [Humane] Society representatives denied that they had been harassing customers and offered that their attempts to gain support would be completely fruitless if they were bothering the public or conducting themselves in a disorderly manner.”

“I advised both parties that the parking lot is apparently not in this permit [for leased space at Marina Park], and therefore The Humane Society would, at the very least, be able to pass out their literature and speak with pedestrians in these specified areas,” Houghton wrote. “I advised the farmers market managers that The Humane Society [representatives] were free to protest and pass out their literature in the public parking lot or on the sidewalk (public areas) but as for now they would not be entering the grassy area for which a permit has been purchased.”

The Humane Society of the United States, based in Washington, D.C., has net assets of $214,549,879, according to its most recent tax forms posted to Guidestar.org, and has 700 employees. According to the state’s lobbying database, it pays former state Senate Minority Leader Robert Goldberg $4,000 a month to lobby for its interests in the Statehouse.

In a Facebook post Aug. 5, representatives of Browning Homestead Farm in Matunuck objected to The Humane Society’s actions: “Yesterday, The Humane Society of the U.S. sent people from Washington, D.C. to South Kingstown to hand out anti-Senator Sosnowski political literature at the Marina Park farmers market. The HSUS D.C. lobbyist sat in his running car with windows up for hours while two other people, one of whom told me he was also paid by HSUS, roamed the market area with anti-Senator Sosnowski political postcards similar to the full-page ads they’ve been running in the South County Independent. I spoke with the two roaming with the postcards and asked them to consider that their political activity was hurting the local farmers and artisans trying to make a living at our farmers market and that their politicking would best be left to an election.”

The animal protection bill, H5505, would require egg-laying hens to be kept in cages that allow them to fully extend their wings without touching the side of an enclosure or another hen, and would require 216 square inches of floor space per hen. Sosnowski has denied she blocked the bill, which was not heard by the Senate. In an interview, Sosnowski said she agreed with an advisory opinion against the bill by the Livestock Welfare and Care Standards Council, an advisory body to the director of the state Department of Environmental Management and the General Assembly for issues related to livestock, that is chaired by State Veterinarian Scott Marshall.

In 2014, the Council recommended adopting standards regarding minimum floor space for cage laying hens, but urged the General Assembly to allow Little Rhody Farms in Foster – the state’s largest producer of eggs and the only chicken farmer in Rhode Island to use battery cages – to continue their current practices until the battery cages were obsolete, Marshall said. Only Little Rhody Farms would be affected if H5505 were to pass. Sosnowski’s farm, which raises free-range chickens, would not.

“The Council has debated this issue extensively,” Marshall wrote in a June 2 letter to House Rep Arthur Handy. “Implementation of H5505 will put the largest laying hen farmer in Rhode Island out of business. He is currently carrying out normal animal husbandry practices and, in the expert opinion of the Council, is not harming his animals.”

The Humane Society website states caged hens “suffer from the denial of many natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing, all important for hen welfare.”

“The worst torture to which a battery hen is exposed is the inability to retire somewhere for the laying act,” wrote Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. Konrad Lorenz on the U.S. Humane Soceity website. “For the person who knows something about animals it is truly heart-rending to watch how a chicken tries again and again to crawl beneath her fellow cagemates to search there in vain for cover.”

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