McDonald’s Corp. (MCD), the world’s biggest restaurant chain, plans to become the first company of its type to sell fish in Europe that’s been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

McDonald’s will start selling MSC-certified white fish — including in its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches — at 7,000 restaurants in 39 European countries from October, the Oak Brook, Illinois- based company said today. The MSC is an organization set up to help promote and develop sustainable fishing practices.

The MSC certification is the “most robust and recognizable” demonstration of sustainable sourcing, Keith Kenny, senior director of supply chain for McDonald’s Europe, said in an interview. “This is really going to raise awareness” of the issue of sustainability for McDonald’s 13 million daily customers in the region, he said.

McDonald’s is among consumer-goods companies that are emphasizing the importance of sustainably sourced ingredients as the global population swells and consumes more food. Unilever, the world’s second-biggest consumer-goods company, has pledged to buy only sustainable palm oil by 2015. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is also committed to only selling MSC-certified wild seafood, according to Rupert Howes, chief executive officer of the MSC.

McDonald’s, which sold about 100 million Filet-O-Fish portions in Europe last year, said it won’t increase prices on fish products as a result of the switch to MSC-approved goods. The company will absorb any costs incurred as it regards the move as beneficial for the McDonald’s brand. McDonald’s said in April that it expected food expenses to rise as much as 4.5 percent in the U.S. and Europe this year.

Free-Range Eggs

“The main reason we take actions like this in our supply chain is to ensure we have supply in the future,” Kenny said. “It’s a serious issue.”

McDonald’s also uses only free-range and non-caged eggs in 95 percent of its restaurants across Europe, and sells only coffee that has been certified as produced through sustainable methods. Europe represented about 37 percent of operating income last year, compared with the U.S.’s 46 percent.

“Our customers are increasingly interested in the food they eat, where it comes from, and how it’s been sourced,” Julian Hilton-Johnson, vice president of corporate relations and McDonald’s Europe’s chief of staff, said by phone.

“We talk in McDonald’s about moving from ‘fast food’ to ‘good food, fast,’ and making sure we differentiate ourselves to our customers,” Hilton-Johnson said.

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