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Agriculture secretary pitches 'Half Your Plate' message

by Joan Murphy | September 29, 2011

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the marketing campaign for Make Half Your Plate Fruits & Vegetables at a Sept. 26 press conference in Sacramento, CA.

The latest dietary guidelines advise Americans to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables, and Secretary Vilsack picked California, the top agricultural producing state, to unveil the first themed message supporting the new MyPlate food icon.

More than 4,000 organizations have joined the MyPlate Nutrition Communications Network, he said, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to boost enthusiasm for the message by announcing the MyPlate Fruits & Veggies Video Challenge.

The USDA is encouraging people to submit inspiring and instructive videos that provide practical tips on how to make half one’s plate fruits and vegetables.

For the best videos that focus on how to add more fruits and vegetables to an individual’s diet on a budget, the USDA will award $9,000 in prize money for three categories: Tips for Kids, Tips When Eating at Home, and Tips When Eating Away from Home.

“By tapping into American creativity, we can help families focus on healthier food choices and to make half their plate fruit and vegetables,” said Mr. Vilsack. “America’s abundant and nutritious food supply is one of the most affordable in the world, and increasing our consumption of fruits and vegetables will go a long way toward reversing overweight and obesity, not only for children but for all Americans.”

Through 2013, the USDA plans to roll out messages coordinated among the public- and private-sector partners on the following themes of the Dietary Guidelines: Make Half Your Plate Fruits & Vegetables; Enjoy Your Food But Eat Less of It; Make At Least Half Your Grains Whole Grains; and Drink Water Instead of Sugary Drinks.

Jin Ju Wilder, president of Status Gro and a Produce Marketing Association board member, played a role at the Sept. 26 press conference and subsequent roundtable discussion.

“Obviously we’re proud of the MyPlate icon, and PMA wanted to make sure USDA knows we’re supporting it,” said Ms. Wilder.

PMA is hoping the Obama administration’s focus on fruits and vegetables translates into gains as the debate for the 2012 farm bill heats up.

Budget negotiations may speed up consideration of the farm bill, and there is a concern that the specialty-crop industry and other stakeholders may not have enough time to educate lawmakers on the issues. In the current financial climate, specialty crops will be lucky to maintain the status quo.

Ms. Wilder said that she was impressed with both Mr. Vilsack’s argument that setting aside money for agricultural research gives the United States a key advantage in providing food security and the commitment to specialty crops despite the pressure for budget cuts.

On the same day, Mr. Vilsack led a White House Business Council roundtable with business, community and agricultural leaders to explore ways to grow jobs in the region and sell the Obama administration’s American Jobs Act.