It's been a long time since anything has come along to really rock the celluslosic casing industry.

The last big innovation was the turkey frank, which Viskase Corp. of Chicago introduced a quarter-century ago. Up until now, things have been pretty quiet.But recently, Viskase announced it had perfected E-Z Mark, a process whereby images can be formed on hotdogs, sort of like little tattoos but without the needles.

The important thing is, E-Z Mark is more than just another example of how modern technology is working to improve our lives. E-Z Mark has far-reaching cultural and economic implications. For the first time, man will be able to communicate through weiners.

Tom Mann, manager of technical services for the Chicago-based Viskase, is convinced it will be bigger than the turkey dog.

You may not have heard of Viskase, but in the cellulosic casing industry, Viskase is a giant with no peer. Pickle loaf, garlic bologna or hotdog, it doesn't matter - if it wears a casing, it's probably a Viskase.

Mann sees lots of applications for E-Z Mark. He sees weiners promoting products and extending seasonal greetings. He sees personalized weiners and weiners with corporate logos. He sees men and women selling advertising space on the sides of weiners.

Say, for instance, it was Easter. Could you have a weiner that would say "Happy Easter"?

"Why not?" Mann says.

"You could have them that would say `Merry Christmas,' `Happy New Year,' `Happy Thanksgiving Day,' `Happy Mother's Day.' Sure, you take Mom out to a nice place for dinner. But for lunch, you might want to sit her down and feed her some good hotdogs."

What if a guy was a newspaper columnist and he wanted to get his column logo printed up on weenies - could he do it?

"We can't print a picture on a hotdog yet," Mann says.

"The quality of resolution isn't that far along yet. But there's no problem with print or corporate logos. If you wanted your logo on a hotdog, you'd figure the cost at one to two pennies a pound. And we supply in industrial quantities, between 50,000 to 100,000 individual casings at a time."

From a purely culinary point of view, is it an idea the people will relish? Will the American public bite?

"I think so," Mann says.

"Sara Lee had a golf classic last year in Nashville, and the franks were served with the Sara Lee Golf Class logo printed right on the frankfurter. People were gobbling them up like mad.

"We don't have it out yet on a commercial basis, only because nobody has introduced it. Our customers the meat suppliers around the world are testing it."

Call me a worry wart, but something about E-Z Mark disturbs me. What if it falls into the wrong hands? What if an evil force gets hold of it and uses it to print up a couple hundred thousand pornographic weenies? What if a young kid sees something like that and loses his mind? Who would be responsible?

"Viskase holds the patent on the process. We'll decide what can and what cannot be printed on hotdogs," Mann says.

"And there is no way we would ever print up obscene hotdogs. That would be inconsistent with our respect for family values."