Half a plate sounds greatWith enthusiastic backing from the fresh produce industry, the  U.S. Department of Agriculture wants MyPlate to become the plate for Americans.

Unveiling a color-coded plate that illustrates half a plate devoted to fruits and vegetables, the USDA’s Tom Vilsack, first lady Michelle Obama and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin unveiled America’s new food icon June 2.

At a press conference, Tom Stenzel, president of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said the fresh produce industry fully backs MyPlate.

“The MyPlate graphic is stunningly simple,” he said. “It creates a visual that all of us and our children can look at for every meal.”

Stenzel said he has been asked if the produce industry can provide the fruits and vegetables to fill half of America’s plate.

“I do want to tell you we can, and we are looking forward to that opportunity.”

The USDA said http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ will be the web resource for consumers, nutrition educators and others looking for more information about the icon.

Vilsack said the MyPyramid image, in use some variation since the early 1990s, was too complex to serve as a quick and easy guide for busy American families. Over the past two years, he said the USDA and other agencies have been working on creating a powerful yet simple to understand message for Americans to show what foods are need in what proportions for a healthy diet.

“MyPlate is an uncomplicated symbol to help remind people to think about their food choices in order to lead healthier lifestyles,” Vilsack said.

Obama said the nation needs a simple way to convey nutritional information that makes sense at the dinner table and school cafeteria.

“We needed something useful and something simple, and that’s why I like MyPlate so much,” she said. She said parents can’t be relied on to measure out servings and portions, and MyPlate is the solution.

“As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables, and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden,” she said.

Obama said the new icon won’t end the epidemic of childhood obesity alone, but she called it an “enormous step in the right direction.”

“It shows that all of us are willing to act on behalf of our nation’s health, and are willing to step when it comes to our kids,” she said.

Industry reaction was uniformly positive.

“We applaud USDA and everyone in this industry that helped to make this a reality,” Bryan Silbermann, president of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said in a statement.

Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Hockessin, Del.-based Produce for Bitterer Health Foundation, said in a news release that making half of what you eat fruits and vegetables has been one of the supporting messages of the foundation’s  Fruit & Veggies — More Matters campaign.

Pivonka said after the event that she is pleased the USDA is planning to emphasize the message of “make half your plate fruits and vegetables” from September through December this year.

While the industry hoped for the plate icon after the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, Pivonka said it is more than welcome  now.

“This isn’t a magic bullet, but it sure is a big big step in the right direction.”

She said the icon will be used by the government for consumer education in nutrition assistance programs, at schools and other venues.

“Everybody relies on this icon,” she said. “I really do think they hit the nail on the head this time.”