The European Union (EU) livestock sector relies on imported soybean as a feed source, but feeding soybean to animals leads to a loss of macronutrients compared to direct human consumption, and soybean production is associated with deforestation. Here we show that 75–82% of current EU animal fat and protein production could be sustained without soybean imports while avoiding increased use of cropland for feed production within the EU. Reduced soybean feed exports, mainly from South America, would free up 11–14 million hectares outside the EU, but indirect land-use changes would increase demand for palm oil produced in southeast Asia. Avoiding imported soybean feeds would result in reduced EU pork and poultry production; increased plant-based food consumption would be required to maintain the supply of essential nutrients for human diets. Optimizing livestock production to overcome dependency on imported soybean feed can reduce cropland demand in deforestation-prone areas while supporting the nutritional requirements of EU diets—but will require progressive policies targeting all aspects of the food system.