LUXEMBOURG – Europe’s second-highest court banned the weed killer paraquat yesterday, criticizing the European Commission for poor health and safety assessments when it authorized the chemical in the EU in 2003. The ruling handed down by the Court of First Instance (CFI) endorsed an appeal by Sweden, which banned paraquat in 1983 but was forced to comply with the EU approval issued 20 years later. More than 10 other EU countries had also banned it. Paraquat, a fast-acting and acutely toxic chemical, became widely known when it was sprayed on Latin American marijuana fields in the 1970s as a defoliant. Paraquat is marketed globally as Gramoxone by Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta but is also available under other brand names. Syngenta said it will work with regulatory authorities and the Commission to understand the implications of the ruling and to analyze the issues raised. «Syngenta has comprehensive data that support the safe use of paraquat for users, consumers and the environment,» the company said in a statement. Critics say it is impossible to handle paraquat safely and assert the chemical harms the lungs, skin and eyes of workers handling it. Paraquat producers deny these charges, saying that used properly it provides safe and effective weed control. In its ruling, the CFI said the Commission’s authorization for paraquat – a directive dated December 2003 – had failed to apply proper procedures and was not properly thorough in its assessments of paraquat’s effects on human and animal health. «The Court of First Instance annuls the directive authorizing paraquat as an active plant protection substance,» it said in a statement.