DNA barcoding is a molecular technology that allows the identification of any biological species by amplifying, sequencing and querying the information from genic and/or intergenic standardized target regions belonging to the extranuclear genomes. Although these sequences represent a small fraction of the total DNA of a cell, both chloroplast and mitochondrial barcodes chosen for identifying plant and animal species, respectively, have shown sufficient nucleotide diversity to assess the taxonomic identity of the vast majority of organisms used in agriculture. Consequently, cpDNA and mtDNA barcoding protocols are being used more and more in the food industry and food supply chains for food labeling, not only to support food safety but also to uncover food piracy in freshly commercialized and technologically processed products. Since the extranuclear genomes are present in many copies within each cell, this technology is being more easily exploited to recover information even in degraded samples or transformed materials deriving from crop varieties and livestock species. The strong standardization that characterizes protocols used worldwide for DNA barcoding makes this technology particularly suitable for routine analyses required by agencies to safeguard food safety and quality. Here we conduct a critical review of the potentials of DNA barcoding for food labeling along with the main findings in the area of food piracy, with particular reference to agrifood and livestock foodstuffs.
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