Parents around the country are trying to find out if any of the meat involved in the biggest beef recall in U.S. history found its way into their children’s school lunches, or still might show up there.

More than 140 million pounds of beef was recalled from a California slaughterhouse after video showed crippled and sick animals being forced onto the production lines.

The issue here is not whether an individual worker forced a sick animal into the group that was slaughtered for human food. The question is how sick animals, whose meat is unfit for human consumption, could end up on the assembly line and then as food shipped out to our nation’s schools and supermarkets.

The answer is as disturbing as it is simple. First President Bush cut the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the government’s watchdog over the meatpacking industry, to shreds. Then the remaining Bush appointees at the USDA watered down workplace safety and food inspection regulations. Only last month, the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced that it was removing maximum line speed regulations, thereby subjecting meatpacking workers to even more dangerous workplace conditions, and that it was removing on-the-line meat inspectors, thereby increasing the risk to the public of food-borne illnesses.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union and the Safe Food Coalition, which represents victims of food-borne illness, warned the USDA about this when they joined hands in Washington last month to testify against the safety cuts. With Bush, though, such warnings fell on deaf ears. For him, big business once again came before workers who suffer debilitating injuries and school children who might fall ill from toxic food.

The union and consumer groups warn that, with the huge growth of the poultry industry, we could face an even bigger danger to both workers and consumers.

The public interest demands that limits on meatpacking line speed must be restored, and on-line inspectors must be put back in place at all meat plants. All cuts made at the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory bodies must be rescinded. Fire and replace all the Bush appointees at these agencies. The safety of the workers and the health of the people come first.